On May 1, 2013, For Love of Children hosted our annual “Beyond the Classroom” Fundraising Luncheon. Board members, staff, volunteers, donors, partners and students gathered at the Renaissance Hotel to enjoy a delicious meal and respond to the call to action to support FLOC programs. There wasn’t an empty seat in the house.
Remarks: Tim Payne, Executive Director
In 1965, a community of volunteers formed For Love of Children through a call to action. They joined one another, united in a sense of hope and motivated by a common mission. Theirs was a call to shutter a warehouse for wards of the state in the District, and to establish new standards of care to demand safeguards against neglect. Theirs was a call for social justice, a recognition that collective action could transform the future for these children.
Over the course of our 47-year history, our strategy has shifted to focus on education, but we are still guided by the core values of our founders: to help children thrive, to give them the opportunities they deserve. We still come together as a community united by hope, dedicated to the belief that individuals, working together, can impact lasting and meaningful change.
What, then, is our call to action today?
Current educational statistics are alarming: barely 50% of our high school students graduate on time, 89% of 11th graders perform below basic levels in reading. Too few children in this city, particularly low-income children of color, receive the excellent education that they deserve. The inequalities in our community are deep and widening.
We can’t begin to achieve social justice without guaranteeing that our children have the tools, knowledge, and drive necessary for academic achievement. There’s an undeniable power in choice, in being able to choose, and all our work seeks to provide students with choices. Our scholars reject the notion that their lives are predetermined by what ward they grow up in or what school district they’re born into. They choose different paths, ones that lead to college, careers, futures. We simply guide them on their journey. We unite students and their families with a diverse set of volunteers who teach, empower, and, working tirelessly alongside their students, transform. We stand all together, and refuse to allow these injustices to continue. Our call may be a whisper or it may be a shout, but we say together: not in this city, not in our community, and not these kids.
All of our volunteers, from the 20-year-old college student to the 50-year-old attorney, give at least 3 hours a week to help our students develop a foundation of academic skills and a mindset of self-confidence and determination. They show the importance of setting goals and share the joys and celebration of achievement.
Our kids know the odds are stacked against them. But the thing that is distinctively different about FLOC students is that they have grit.
Grit isn’t just an abstract concept. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard are currently evaluating the impact of grit on college success. What is grit? Simply put, it is the perseverance to achieve. It’s a refusal to be overcome by anything. Someone may be more naturally gifted or have more opportunities based on circumstance, but rest assured that kids with grit work harder, longer, and smarter to achieve success.
If you’ve heard my story, you know that I started at FLOC as that 20 year old college student. I’ve learned the true meaning of grit watching Erica, my first student, grow from an inquisitive but desperately struggling 3rd grader at Garrison Elementary School into a confident 4th year student at the University of Maryland. Name an obstacle: she’s overcome it. Think of a challenge: she’s faced it.
At Garrison, we closed the nearly 3-year gap in her reading skills. At Shaw Junior High School, she fought against a culture of underachievement. She rose out of an environment, both at school and at home, where college was never a goal, let alone an option. Her high school graduation was special, but it didn’t mean everything was easy from there. Contending with unsupportive financial aid officers, the rising costs of college, being forced to transfer, working 30 hours a week while maintaining a full course load: all of these and more happened. But Erica never gave up, never lost sight of her goal, and she knew that FLOC would be there every step of the way. In December, Erica will be graduating from the University of Maryland with a degree in family studies, but she’s not stopping there. She’s considering graduate programs in education. Erica has taught me all I ever need to know about grit.
Day in, day out, our students at FLOC are developing their grit. The more than 550 of them who came through our doors this year received the full benefits of our ongoing search for the best practices, and the newest, most relevant research data. Dozens of volunteers join our efforts every week; more and more stay with us year to year. Together we transform. For the 7th consecutive year, 100% of our high school scholars have graduated on time, and been accepted into a postsecondary institution. This is fantastic, but we can do more. We must do more.
Next year the number of post-secondary scholars we serve will go up to 75, and we intend to stay with them through college and their transitions to careers. Our work isn’t finished when a student reaches grade-level, gets a great score on the SAT, or is accepted into a top-tier university. We don’t stop until our scholars earn their postsecondary degree. We’re expanding every day, both in terms of the number of students we serve, and in the variety of ways we’re serving those students. We’re working with students longer, and the long-term commitments we are making to these students means, unfortunately, we’re unable to enroll some others. We’re straining against our current capacity, against limitations of space, and staff, and resources. We’re straining to open our doors to new students. This year alone, 85 are waiting, and hundreds, thousands more who could thrive with our support, wait.
The good news is that we know what it takes, and, with your help, we can get there. We are building the strategic plan that lays the foundation for growth in the city. This is our tipping point. We are poised, ready, and eager to expand the scale of our services, to reach more kids in underserved parts of our community, to provide the mindset, the skills, and the grit to succeed.
Do you hear the call?
Join FLOC today and show your support. You can whisper, or you can shout: not in this city, not for this community, not these kids. Together, we can reach even more. Together, we transform.