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What You Learn on Path to Success Matters Most

(FLOC Executive Director Tim Payne gave the opening remarks at “Beyond the Classroom 2011: For Love of Children’s Annual Fundraising Event” at the Academy for Educational Development on April 27. We are publishing a series of blog posts about the event.)

Good afternoon and welcome. I’m Tim Payne, and today I am the executive director of For Love of Children. But, when I was in the third grade, I was totally sure that I was going to be the starting shortstop of the Baltimore Orioles and practicing law in the off season.

Now, I’d like you to think back to where you were in the third grade. Where did you think you’d be today? Does the dream you had then match where you are now? Probably not, but does that matter?

As you think back, were there challenges you faced on the road to get to where you are today? How did they shape you as a leader? Did you receive support to help you succeed? I know I did. I believe that what you learned on your path to success is really what matters most.

Helping kids thrive and succeed is exactly what motivated Fred Taylor and the volunteers who formed FLOC in 1965. Their goal was to shut down the overrun orphanage – the warehouse that was Junior Village. Their actions were a turning point in the treatment of disadvantaged youth in our city – and even nationally – and those first volunteers remain an inspiration.

We’re honored that Fred, and Don Allen, two of our earliest volunteers, are able to join us today and are still deeply invested in the success of the children we serve.

In our 45-year history, our strategy has evolved to exclusively focus on education, but we’ve never abandoned our early vision of helping children thrive today, and making successful transitions to adulthood tomorrow.

Eleven years ago I walked into Room 221 of Garrison Elementary School and joined FLOC as a tutor from the George Washington University. On that day I met my first student – a third grader named Erica – and my dreams of fielding ground balls and filing briefs changed forever.

Over the last 11 years, I have watched Erica grow into the confident woman she is today. FLOC has been there for every step of her journey. When she struggled with even and odd numbers, I was there to teach her. As she dealt with the challenges of adolescence, in the chaos of Shaw Junior High, we were there to show her alternatives and support her self-esteem. Today, as she completes her second year of college, on the Dean’s List, we continue to encourage her on her road to a degree with the financial investment of FLOC’s Fred Taylor Scholarship Fund, and the continued support from Scholars program and staff. I am so exited to see what tomorrow brings for Erica.

She is just one of the 500 FLOC students who are achieving success today. Her story illustrates what For Love of Children is doing for every child we serve.

We start in the earliest stages of elementary school and stay with our students, regardless of where they live or what type of school they attend, going beyond the classroom to start today’s kids on the road to college and career success.

Our programs begin with one-on-one tutoring; where nearly 300 professionally trained volunteers are helping our kids build a strong foundation of reading, writing, math, and critical thinking skills.

Imagine walking into our building, to join a diverse group of college students, young professionals, and caring members of our community, working side-by-side in a common mission. You’d see and hear the laughter of tutors and students who have just mastered the complexity of borrowing across zeros or finding the least common denominator in fractions.

Our work extends to promoting healthy living and character building at the Outdoor Education Center in Harpers Ferry, West Va., where we use experiential learning, adventure programming and environmental education to help students develop the confidence they need to push past boundaries and go beyond what they think is possible.

It continues with the Scholars Program, where students from middle school through post-secondary participate in weekly workshops that impart academic, cultural, college and career readiness skills. Just last week, 15 of our juniors spent their spring break on a college tour, visiting North Carolina A&T, Georgia State, Ogelthorp, Clark, Atlanta, the University of Georgia, and Virginia Commonwealth University.

Our programs don’t stop when these students graduate high school. We invest in them financially with the Fred Taylor Scholarship fund, and programmatically with workshops during college breaks, continued guidance, and advisement from our incredible staff throughout the year. One of our favorite activities is our annual college night. When current postsecondary scholars come home during winter breaks, they come to FLOC to host a college fair for current high school students and their families. They share first hand about the challenges, the pitfalls, but also the accomplishments that our students are making.

Through all of our efforts, our kids are achieving success. For the fifth year in a row, all of our high school seniors have graduated on time, and 100 percent have been accepted into post-secondary institutions.

At FLOC, we empower success at every stage of a young person’s development, along the road from first grade through their postsecondary education.

We see success in the 9 year-old boy who came to FLOC after meeting a 4 year-old whom the 9 year-old realized was a better reader than he was. Today, that 9 year-old enthusiastically chooses “Batman” stories to read with his tutor every week. That is success.

We see success is the 13 year old who ventured outside the city for the first time last summer, intimidated by the quiet of the wilderness in West Virginia. Today, she is excited to share her memories of tending to an organic garden that produced the food she ate, and of the four days canoeing and camping along the Shenandoah River.

We see success in the 17 year old that ran into our office one day, holding a thick envelope, full of questions but excited to see the acceptance letter from Penn State.

And we see success in the 22 year old who is cramming for her last set of finals, polishing up her resume, and preparing for second round interviews for a job in the field of her dreams. Today, that scholar is prepared for the multi-cultural, multi-tasking, information-intensive world of today.

These moments, these accomplishments, they are fantastic.

FLOC’s programs are working.

But our work is far from done.

Every year, when we build our budget, and recruit out volunteers, we have to make difficult choices about how many students – and which students – we can accept, and which must be put on our waiting list.

How many of you saw the movie “Waiting for Superman,” the documentary about education reform? You know that heart-wrenching scene near the end where the kids and their parents are waiting to find out whether they can get into a better school?

I can tell you that there is nothing harder than looking a parent in the eye and telling them that we just don’t have a spot for their child…and that they just have to wait. We had to have 92 of those conversations last year alone.

But we can change that, today. Every volunteer tutor literally means one more child who is served. Every contribution of time and money means more opportunities for children and youth in our communities.

I’m pleased to announce that this June, we are doubling the size of our summer tutoring program, which means telling 50 more parents their children don’t have to wait any longer.

With your help, we can build the capacity to ensure that every student who comes to FLOC has a volunteer ready, has a spot in our program, and has the opportunity to succeed.

With you help, we can recruit, train and place the volunteers we need to eliminate our waitlist.

We can secure the resources to take more students to the Outdoor Education Center.

We can enable more students to step foot on a college campus.

We can put 73 more scholars students on the road to their postsecondary degree in the next five years.

No family should be turned away. No student should have to wait.

With your help, today, we can help more kids achieve their dreams of success and become tomorrow’s leaders.

And I invite you to join me in meeting some of FLOC’s amazing volunteers, partners, and leaders of tomorrow.

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