Last month, I had the opportunity to speak at For Love of Children’s annual Recognition event, which recognizes the outstanding achievements of our students. We celebrated the positive strides they have made in building and pursuing their dreams. We acknowledged the volunteers and partners who have been instrumental in aiding this process.
As I looked out into the audience, I was inspired by what I saw. I saw students with aspirations of academic excellence. I saw leaders who have served their communities and who will continue to make positive changes in our world. I saw mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandparents and friends who teach, support and guide us all through our life journeys. I saw individuals who give their time and energy so that we all may grow stronger.
Volunteers are an integral part of our organization. They are tutors, guest speakers, Career Day hosts, test preparation experts, pro-bono consultants, IT specialists, community leaders and so much more. They are the people who make an incredible difference in the students we serve; they are the lifeblood of our organization.
Sitting in the third row that night was Tiesha and her tutor Samantha. Like so many of the students who attend DC Public Schools, Tiesha had fallen behind. It shouldn’t be a huge surprise, last year 92% of DC 8th graders were below their grade level in math. But Tiesha, like all 300 of the students who participate in our Neighborhood Tutoring Program, was brimming with potential.
Her tutor, Samantha, committed every week to help us provide support to Tiesha through our structured, consistent educational programming. But more than that, Samantha made the commitment to care. You see, some of our volunteers are tutors, which means at times they teach, but they also listen, they serve as role models, and as friends. They are thoughtful, creative and dedicated to encouraging our students to continue to learn, grow, and accomplish great things.
This year, after 22 hours of tutoring, Tiesha made 1 year and 1 month improvement in her math ability. As she moves into 5th grade, Tiesha is one step closer to where she needs to be. With each volunteer who becomes a tutor in our program, we are able to give one more student the chance to experience that unique opportunity.
But not all of our volunteers choose to be tutors. In the fifth row of the audience that night was Jean. She was responsible for facilitating a cultural exchange between FLOC Leaders in the Making students (our program for middle school students) and children orphaned by AIDS in Nairobi, Kenya. For several months, Jean and her organization, Children’s Cultural Connection, worked directly with our student leaders to teach them about global issues and Kenyan culture. Throughout the course of the project, students made photo journals; read stories; played Kenyan games; learned about the AIDS epidemic in Africa; about poverty, hunger and inequality. Volunteers like Jean help us open students’ eyes to the world that extends beyond the geographical boundaries of their neighborhoods. They empower our students with the knowledge and experience to give back to the benefit of others.
In the back row was Ned. Since 1999, Ned has provided the services of his company, PrepMatters, and their intensive ACT, SAT and standardized test preparation resources to our Educational Guidance and Advocacy program. Ned’s service to FLOC has included more than 40 hours of instruction, more than 9 full-length proctored practice tests each year; support that would have cost each of our students more than $4,000. We celebrate the 13 students who have graduated high school on time, and send them off to post-secondary institutions across the country with more than $150,000 in scholarships; thanks in large part to the gracious support of people like Ned who help us transform lives.
Ed was also in the room that night. Like several of our corporate partners, Ed gives his time and that of his company, TerpSys, as a pro-bono consultant, as an expert in his field. They share uncomplicated ideas that come naturally, and they often don’t realize that what was so easy for them would have probably taken our staff a few days or weeks to work through on our own. Ed is one of my kitchen cabinet friends.
I like to dabble with cooking, and every once in a while I need to reach in the back of the cabinet for that one special ingredient, the cream of tartar. That one spice that I don’t need everyday, but is always there when I just have to use it. I often think of these partners in the same vain. We don’t see them everyday, but when we face a challenge, we know where to reach.
Ed’s company has been an instrumental member of FLOC’s community for years, from providing oversight, technical and managerial support to developing the FLOC website and technology infrastructure, to donating hundreds of gifts for our children and families each Holiday season. Ed’s company provides high quality IT services at no cost. This means that funds that would otherwise be spent on IT support can now be spent on developing FLOC programs. Between their pro-bono and financial support, this amazing company has given more than $60,000 in support in the last two years alone. Beyond that, they were a part of our first ever Shadow Day and facilitated career exploration by hosting some of our high school students to learn more about the IT industry. When I ask Ed for help, he is quick to respond, “We’re here to help. You go do what you know best…”
We know how to teach, how to empower, and how to transform lives. We know that service means something different to every person, but every person has the ability to serve. When I looked out at the audience last week, I saw in that moment the one thing I know the most — our volunteers are what make all of our success possible.
– Tim Payne