Dear Young Lady

Young Lady,

I won’t share your name, but we both know it. And, even if no one else ever learns I’m speaking to you, I need you to know what I think of you.

I’ve been thinking a lot about heroes. In the last couple weeks, I met Bryan Stevenson. I listened to Father G. But, more than anything, I spent time with you. You’re my hero. Seriously.

I need you to know what you taught me.

You taught me how to ask for help. Even when extraordinarily complicated, you reached out. You bravely requested help when it was hard. You showed courage that could have been so easily quieted. You turned battery into bravery.

You taught me vulnerability. We cried. Maybe not together. You didn’t see me cry, but I did…with you. I tried to be strong for you like you’ve been strong for others. Once you were gone, my tears streamed. You honestly admit confusion in a way that so many adults can’t. You showed me strength can be sad.

You taught me strength. You don’t know this. You won’t for years. When I complain, I think of you. When I want to be sad, I think of your smile. When I want to quit, you keep me going. As I told you once, I want to be you when I grow up.

You think of me as the leader. But, you’re wrong. You are. I just get to watch.

You’re a teenager. There’s nothing more I want to give you than the right to be a teenager. I wish I could take all the difficulty away. Unfortunately, I can’t. You’ve dealt with things I can’t understand. You taught me things you’ll never understand.

I do this work for you. I do this because of you. I do this because of who you will be.

You say you want to be a social worker. I can’t wait to meet the kids that will meet you. Those kids don’t yet know how lucky they’ll be. But, already, I do.

With more respect than you can know,
Mr. Mark

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What Charlie Said.

Recently, I attended an event for Free Minds Book Club. Each month, Free Minds hosts a night where volunteers review and respond to poetry written by incarcerated youth. The volunteers’ comments are then sent back to the young people, showing them that their voice continues to matter. Returned members have spoken often about the importance of getting these comments – they serve as a lifeline during extraordinarily dark times.

At these events, volunteers always hear from Poet Ambassadors – young people who have returned home after serving time. These returned members now teach workshops and speak in the community to lift up poetry as a tool for peacemaking and community building. At the last Write Night, Charlie spoke:

“When I got home from lock up, I did the same thing I was doing before. I spent the first month sitting on the stoop until one day I noticed I was surrounded by crack heads and khakis (kids that had been sent home from school that day). I realized I needed to do something different, so I called [Free Minds Executive Director] Tara.

Tara told me to meet her at Ballou the next day. They were doing an On The Same Page event (when returned members speak to students). I did that one, and I’ve been doing them ever since.”

That day at Ballou, Charlie spoke to Reach’s tutors. He and other Free Minds members spoke of their experiences and shared poetry. Tara had warned me that Charlie was new – she didn’t know what would happen when his turn came. But he stood confident, read some poetry, and – in that moment – started creating a new life for himself.

Charlie is doing very well, despite the obstacles faced by those with felonies. He’s now a proud father and a supportive uncle. He’s helping other young men as they transition back to the community. I couldn’t help but feel proud of him.

After he finished speaking, I approached him to tell him that the event he spoke about was an event with my kids. I told him how excited I was that his experience speaking to our tutors impacted him so positively. He said something more simple, elegant, and profound than I could have ever written:

Well, then thank you for being there so I could be there.

There’s a dignity that comes from giving, a recognition of humanity that comes from mattering to another person.  In the end, that’s what we want every one of our young people to experience. We just want to be there so they can be there.


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New Partnership: Beacon House

In the last few weeks, something exciting happened – we quietly launched our fifth program site. This new site presents a particularly unique opportunity for Reach to learn about the efficacy of our model in a new setting. Why? Because, for the first time, we have launched a program outside a school setting.

Beacon House is a community-based organization that provides a variety of programs for young people living in and around Edgewood Terrace, a housing community in Northeast DC. We were approached about partnering with them to train participants in their teen program to work with younger students in their after-school tutoring program.

Intrigued, we had to decide whether this kind of arrangement was something we would consider. We turned immediately to Reach’s Core Values – one of our stated values is that learning is a process that never ends. Would Reach work in a non-school setting? We saw a lot of value in learning the answer to that question, so we decided to give it a try.

MoziqueLast week, we enrolled ten teen tutors at Beacon House. These teens come from four different DC schools – two traditional public schools, one charter school, and one parochial school. If we discover – as we expect – that Reach’s model works outside a school setting, it would allow the organization to reconsider one of the biggest barriers to our growth, geography. To this point, we can only work with students who attend high schools and elementary schools in close proximity. That could change.

We have a wonderful opportunity to work with a new group of young people. Additionally, we have the chance to learn whether our approach works in a non-school setting. We are very excited about both.

And one more thing…

At our school sites, we partner with teachers to provide extra support during tutoring sessions. At a non-school site, no such teachers exist, so we needed to find two Classroom Assistants to support our Program Instructor, Ms. Quilla.

Edgewood Terrace, where Beacon House is located, is just blocks from Trinity Washington University. Below, on the left, is a picture from Reach’s first ever tutoring session at Perry Street Prep (Fall 2010). Both of those young women are now first year students at Trinity. So, in one of the proudest moments of Reach’s history, we hired them. Welcome to the team, Chynna and Joyce!

Chynna Joyce 2

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Summer Learning: NCMEC

Last year, we launched a unique summer program, giving our teens the opportunity to build academic skills in an employment-like environment. As part of last year’s summer program, we published four children’s books. This year, the program doubled in size, so we had the opportunity to unleash our teens on some new community challenges.

With financial support from Comcast, a team of eight teens had the opportunity to complete a project with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Our teens learned about the issues, visited The Center, and identified ways that they might more effectively speak to child and teen audiences.

The teens developed story ideas, wrote scripts, and drafted comics before making mid-point presentations to a team of staff members from NCMEC. With helpful feedback, our teens used online animation technology to create web comics – one aimed at a teen audience and another targeting younger children.

The results? Two great comics teaching skills to keep kids safe, both in the real world and the digital world. Check them out and let us know what you think!

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Hellos & Goodbyes

We are beyond thrilled to announce the addition of two new full-time staff members to our growing team. This year, Reach will go from 3 to 5 program sites. Our budget will grow from $420,000 to almost $700,000. Your investment in our work allows us to hire the incredible people that will propel our important work forward. Below, we’re excited to introduce you to the two newest members of the Reach team!

profile photo, God son, Reach, announcementSelamawit “Sully” Mulugeta, Development & Operations Associate: Sully is Reach’s first human capital investment in our development and fundraising operation. In her new role, she will begin to build the systems necessary for future fundraising growth, including those related donor acknowledgment, fundraising communications, prospect research, and relationship management. She will also serve as one of our Program Instructors at Ballou Senior High. After years working in political communications, Sully discovered her interest in youth development during her time working with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation. She grew up in DC and Northern Virginia and is a graduate of the University of Virginia.

Kelly Wardle, Program Manager: With significant program growth, it is imperative that we build the14 infrastructure necessary to support a growing number of program sites. Kelly will help us getting there. Bringing program experience from her time at Living Classrooms and an analytical mind focused on solving problems and building systems, Kelly will ensure that our instructors have all they need to do incredible work with the young people we serve. Kelly will communicate progress to our school partners, act as a resource for our instructors, and build the foundation to support continued program growth. Originally from New Mexico, Kelly is a graduate of Elon University.

Not all transitions, however, are new additions. We are sad to lose the talents of our Program Director, Marianne Montalvo. During the last year, Marianne did significant work to improve our program curriculum and strengthen program execution. We will miss her positive energy and wish her the best in her new position at The Advisory Board Company, one of our strongest corporate allies.

We hope you will join us in wishing Marianne well while welcoming the newest members of our team. We are thrilled to be building such an exceptional team as we prepare for the next step in Reach’s evolution as an organization. With Jusna, Lori, Kelly, and Sully, I have no doubt we will continue creating the organization that our city’s young people need and deserve.

Thanks for reading and for your ongoing support of our work,

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Five New Books!

As elementary school reading tutors, our teens noticed that few children’s books reflect their realities. At Reach, we trust teens with real responsibility for things that matter to them. So, when confronted with this challenge, we did what seemed most appropriate: we had our teens write new books.

Last summer, Reach published four children’s books. This fall, in partnership with Shout Mouse Press and Shootback DC, we are publishing five more. Check out the summaries below, and read to the end to find out how you can get advanced copies by supporting our teens today!

In partnership with Shootback DC

The Real DC: A to Z
Ballou – Arveone, Marques, Shamya
Eastern – Fatimah, Neehma, Sean
Perry Street Prep – Napresha, Ricardo

DC A to Z PreviewSo many alphabet books tell the story of the monuments and the national mall. They tell the story of Washington, but our teens wanted to write a book about DC. With teen-taken photos and teen-written text, the alphabet has never been so much fun. C is for Carry Out, G is for Go Go, and Q is for Quadrants. Get ready for a true tour of our city.

In partnership with Shout Mouse Press

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 12.41.05 PMThe Hoodie Hero
by Ashley (Ballou), Daequan (Perry Street Prep), and Rico (Eastern)
Da’Monte walks home deflated after watching a friend get bullied. Afraid of the confrontation, he did nothing. Wishing he was braver, he confided in his grandmother, who provided a powerful surprise. With a magical hoodie provided by the family matriarch, Da’Monte becomes brave and bold. The bullies better watch out.

Khalil’s Swagtown AdventureScreen Shot 2014-09-11 at 12.39.03 PM
by Litzi (Ballou), Kyare (Eastern), Za’Metria (Perry Street Prep)
Khalil is tired of hearing his parents fight. As they scream, he retreats to his closet and begins writing. Beckoned by Khalil’s writing, Khalil’s future self – called Bruh – shows up to provide support. Together, they visit Swagtown and learn how families can communicate better. Armed with strategies and confidence, Khalil emerges from the closet ready to build a better family.

Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 12.38.26 PMMariah Finds a Way
by Darrin (Eastern), Makayla (Ballou), Marc (Perry Street Prep)
Mariah really wants to take over her parents’ fruit shop one day, but they don’t think she can do it. Why? Because she’s blind. When her parents leave on vacation, Mariah gets her hands on the keys to the store. With the help of her parrot sidekick, Blue, she shows her parents what she can do. Frustrated by confusing coins and crooks, Mariah must find a way to get the job done.

Princess CoverThe Princess of Fort Hill Shelter
by Darne’sha (Ballou), Karta (Eastern), Zorita (Perry Street Prep)
Meet Princess McKenzie as she shows you around her castle (Fort Hill Shelter). Speaking mostly in verse, McKenzie shows the power of imagination in overcoming difficult circumstances. But, as the reader is introduced to the royal family, it becomes clear that the queen is missing. McKenzie leaves the shelter in search of the queen and finds something far more important.

Publishing books is far from free. You can help by making a contribution today. But, as they say, that’s not all! Your generosity will be rewarded by advanced copies of our newest titles. And, if you don’t have any young readers at home, you can gift your books to your favorite classroom or school.

With your support, we can publish relevant and engaging material that will build enthusiastic readers the world over. Join us by donating today.

The books will be published and distributed in October 2014.

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Reach on WTOP!

Check out the clips below to hear Kyare and Za’Metria interviewed on WTOP!

Two short clips ran today on the radio, and you can read the write up here.

Use the player below to listen to the radio pieces:



Kyare & ZaMetria WTOP

And, if you missed it, check out this great piece that ran in Greater Greater Education last week. Our teens are famous!

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Teens Give Back 2

After weeks of research and practice, six groups of teens stepped up to the microphone last Tuesday night. Teens Give Back, part of Reach’s unique summer program, gives teens the opportunity to be community philanthropists. We give them $3,000. There’s one rule: they have to give it away to charities they select.

Teens identify community challenges and select organizations they respect. They research those organizations and create 90-second pitches. At Tuesday’s event, six groups presented to an audience almost one hundred strong. Supporters, local funders, and Reach families gathered to see these presentations.

The team representing Courtney's House

The team representing Courtney’s House

Our young people spoke about a variety of issues – veterans, AIDS/HIV, teen pregnancy, youth incarceration, poverty, and human trafficking. While some nerves showed, the young people made some compelling arguments for support.

Like last year, many of the selected organizations reflected one of Reach’s core values: do the work that is most difficult to do and least often done. The six organizations – Courtney’s House, DC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, Mentoring Today, Metro Teen AIDS, SOME, and Veterans on the Rise – were all well represented.

Terrell spoke about the DC Campaign’s success cutting the teen pregnancy rate in half and Tavian discussed the importance of SOME’s capacity to address a variety of challenges. Ashley encouraged us to fight for those who fought for us, and Sasha stated the importance of Metro Teen AIDS’ educational programs. Each of these organizations was awarded Honorable Mention, which comes with a $250 contribution on behalf of our teens.


Jada receives her Junior Staff Hoodie

As the final votes were counted, a special ceremony took place. Five Reach teens were promoted to Junior Staff, Reach’s highest honor. Each of these young people was given an official Reach Staff Hoodie, a token of our appreciation for their exemplary work. Congratulations to Jada, Marc, Za’Metria, Napresha, and Jordan, our newest Junior Staff members.

There was laughter and there was applause…then there was an announcement.

The winning team, representing Mentoring Today

The winning team, representing Mentoring Today

Due to the incredible work of Litzi, Napresha, and Neehma, Courtney’s House won our $500 runner-up prize. As that announcement was made, smiles broke out on the faces of the young people representing Mentoring Today, our winners. In honor of Kyare, Za’Metria, Daequan, Fatimah, and Jada, we will make a $1,500 contribution to Mentoring Today, an organization that provides mentoring and support to young people involved in the juvenile justice system. Like Reach, Mentoring Today never gives up on a kid, and our young people respect that.

Thanks for all those who supported the event and congratulations to all the organizations that will receive our support. But, above all, thanks to our young people who showed us all something about giving back to their community.

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Our Growing Team: Lori

LoriOn July 1st, Lori Pitts became Reach’s fourth employee. She’ll be joining us, part-time, as our Curriculum & Creativity Coordinator.

You may not have heard that job title before – that’s because we made it up – so let me tell you a bit about how Lori’s past and present will contribute to Reach’s future!

A 2012 graduate of Davidson College, Lori brings experience as a Teaching Artist at Actors Theatre of Louisville and Imagination Stage. She also works with a great local nonprofit, Young Playwrights’ Theater.

Using her experience in theater and dance instruction, Lori will help Reach brings its curriculum alive. She will contribute to curriculum development efforts and support Program Instructors in the use of arts-integrated engagement strategies. She’ll also lead the effort to turn our children’s books into Readers Theater scripts for use in elementary school classrooms. Basically, her role is to use her creative instincts to make our curriculum and our instruction even more engaging to the tutors and students we serve.

Lori joined us in the Fall of 2013 as a Program Instructor co-leading our work at Eastern Senior High and Payne Elementary. As she transitions to our “central office” team, her experience as an instructor makes her uniquely qualified to ensure all our curricular materials and tools are aligned to support excellent instruction in the classroom.

Welcome Lori! We’re thrilled to have you join our team.

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Graduation Day

Four years ago, 20 9th grade students took a chance on Reach. To those students, Reach was a new program…a job. To me, that moment was a beginning. We had a belief that turning teens into tutors would lead to reading growth and improved academic outcomes. For four years, we have been monitoring indicators of progress. On Thursday, we were able to see the fruits of our hard work, and it was beautiful.

DC’s graduation rate is 63% – even lower for minority youth. From our founding, Reach has made a commitment to choosing to do the most difficult work. Without intervention, it is likely that our tutors would graduate at a rate even lower than the city average. That was not the case.

Of those 20 tutors that joined us in the fall of 2010, 16 have already graduated. Many of them attended multiple schools during their high school years, but they kept moving toward graduation. In addition to Perry Street Prep, members of that original cohort graduated from Anacostia, Dunbar, and Wise (MD). Of the four who have not graduated, three are on track to graduate within a year. One of the 20 is incarcerated, but he remains in touch with us, and he is working toward his GED. Reach’s first cohort of tutors will be heading to Morehouse, UDC, Trinity Washington University, Morgan State, the DC Firefighter Cadet Program, and more.

Reach’s graduation rate: 80%. And, our graduation rate could jump to 100% in the next year.

But, those numbers only tell part of the story. In the last four years, that cohort has been through so much. They have dealt with homelessness, incarceration, poverty, sexual assault, expulsion, neglect, and many other traumas. And still, as Dr. Angelou taught us, they rise.

In the last few days, many of these graduating tutors have taken time to tell us how much Reach meant to them. They told us they appreciated our unconditional support. To describe Reach, they used words like family.

In the last few days, I cried. I felt pride I didn’t know resided inside me. I got hugtackled (it’s a new word) by young people willing to share this moment with me. I consider myself lucky to know them. We are inspired by them and excited for them. We are honored to have been part of their journey. Congratulations to the class of 2014. And thank you. – Mr. Mark


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