#AlwaysThere – William’s Friends

Through the end of the year, we’ll be sharing stories that demonstrate our year-end campaign theme: #AlwaysThere. It’s what inspires Reach’s work, and it’s what we try to be for our kids. We hope you’ll use #AlwaysThere to tell us your stories using Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

And, when so inspired, we hope you’ll visit www.reachincorporated.org/alwaysthere to make a contribution.

This post was authored based on an interview with William Ross, Reach’s Development Manager.

Have you ever had a really bad week? William had just gone through a break-up. He didn’t love his job. He needed a change. And, to make things worse, he had to figure out how to return his ex’s dog, which was currently in Florida with his parents. There was a lot going on. Not much of it was good.

The only bright spot was an upcoming job interview. William was excited about the position and the organization. His interview was just a few days away.

Then, while moving some of his stuff from his ex’s place to his friend’s basement, he slipped and fell down a flight of stairs. It hurt, but he got up and continued with his plans for the day – he was supposed to be at a memorial service for a friend’s father. After the service, William’s neck pain was getting worse, so he visited a nearby urgent care clinic.

The doctor was writing a prescription for painkillers when he decided to do a precautionary x-ray. When he returned to the room, he said only two words. His look was concerned and serious.

Don’t. Move.2137_1492634737258

A nurse followed behind with a neck brace. The doctor informed William: “You broke your neck.” An ambulance ride followed. Within hours, William was admitted to the hospital, and he met the doctor who would be performing surgery on his spine. For almost two days, he was put into spinal traction.

It’s apparently just as comfortable as it sounds.

From his phone, William withdrew from consideration for the job he wanted so badly. He couldn’t go to work for at least a month…and that was assuming everything went well in surgery. He wouldn’t be able to attend the interview.

But, it was at rock bottom that things started changing. He was already scheduled to move into a new place. His friends handled everything. His mom came to stay with him for a few weeks, then took him back to Florida to recover. One of his parents’ neighbors even brought the dog from Florida.

Everyone showed up.

Then, a month later, when he was finally cleared to go back to work, William noticed something. That job was still open. He contacted the employer and discovered they hadn’t yet found the right fit. He returned and, six weeks after he missed an interview due to spinal surgery, William got the job.

For the last five months, William has been Reach’s Development Manager. He’s running the #AlwaysThere campaign for Reach because so many people were #AlwaysThere for him.

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#AlwaysThere: A Special Wedding Gift

Through the end of the year, we’ll be sharing stories that demonstrate our year-end campaign theme: #AlwaysThere. It’s what inspires Reach’s work, and it’s what we try to be for our kids. We hope you’ll use #AlwaysThere to tell us your stories using Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

And, when so inspired, we hope you’ll visit www.reachincorporated.org/alwaysthere to make a contribution.

All month, we’re sharing #AlwaysThere stories about the way that strong relationships lead to more positive outcomes. But, part of Reach’s work – our efforts to diversify children’s literature – is about supporting people who will remain strangers. How can we be #AlwaysThere for people we’ll never meet?

Joe, Kim, and Graham are great examples of that idea. They all met through their work with Reach. As committed supporters and regular volunteers, these three people came to know each other. And, over time, friendships developed.

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Graham, Kim, and Joe (pictured here with two unidentified wedding crashers) at Mark and Elizabeth’s wedding.

A couple months ago, Reach’s founder (Mark) got married. Wanting to make a special gift, this trio of terrific people began thinking of ways to celebrate Mark’s marriage to his wife, Elizabeth, in a way that was meaningful to all.

It was at that time that a local group, DC Books to Prisons, received approval to distribute Reach’s children’s books to visitor waiting rooms in the federal prison system. All we needed was funding. Working with our publishing partners, Shout Mouse Press, the three friends made a gift.

In the coming months, five of Reach’s books will be distributed to all 120 federal prisons where DC citizens serve time – 600 books in total! When children visit incarcerated family members, they will be able to read books authored by Reach teens and published by our friends at Shout Mouse Press.

Joe will never meet the kids that read these books. Kim will likely never hear anyone thank her. Graham won’t get to see the young readers enjoying the books. But, all the same, they chose to be #AlwaysThere in a really powerful way for young people visiting loved ones in federal prisons. And, with their help, Reach and Shout Mouse will be able to bring comfort at a time when it’s needed the most.

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#AlwaysThere: Brittany

Through the end of the year, we’ll be sharing stories that demonstrate our year-end campaign theme: #AlwaysThere. It’s what inspires Reach’s work, and it’s what we try to be for our kids. We hope you’ll use #AlwaysThere to tell us your stories using Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

And, when so inspired, we hope you’ll visit www.reachincorporated.org/alwaysthere to make a contribution.

This post is based on an interview with Camila, a student at Payne Elementary School.

She has learned the language well. Her speaking shows evidence of the sentence starters she’s been taught. When asked, “What is your favorite part about working with Brittany?”, she responds, “My favorite part about working with Brittany is…”FullSizeRender(37)

She is quick to explain: “I am from Cartagena.” Her father is a DCPS Spanish teacher. He came last year, and the rest of the family followed this year. Understandably, she wasn’t entirely secure in her English when she started. As she explains it, “Sometimes, people would say words I didn’t know. It made me sad.”

Her name is Camila.

On the first day, our partner teacher noted how shy she was. She still felt more comfortable speaking Spanish. When Brittany heard that, she started speaking to Camila in Spanish. Camila lit up. The teacher said, “See, we found a Reach tutor just for you…”FullSizeRender(39)

According to Camila, Brittany is nice. She has a positive attitude. She is always happy. And, most important, “sometimes, when I finish my work, she lets me play a game on her cell phone.”

No wonder Brittany is so popular.

Brittany didn’t feel like she had done anything special. All she did was speak. But, for one little girl, it was so much more. In a way that the adults in the room couldn’t be, Brittany was #AlwaysThere for Camila.

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#AlwaysThere: Reading

Through the end of the year, we’ll be sharing stories that demonstrate our year-end campaign theme: #AlwaysThere. It’s what inspires Reach’s work, and it’s what we try to be for our kids. We hope you’ll use #AlwaysThere to tell us your stories using Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

And, when so inspired, we hope you’ll visit www.reachincorporated.org/alwaysthere to make a contribution.

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Linsey (left) with fellow Site Managers,
Kim Davis and Luisa Furstenberg

This post was authored by Linsey McCombs, our Site Manager at Ballou, Eastern, and H.D. Woodson.

I was five years old and completely bored. All day long the movers were in and out of our new house in Connecticut, placing our boxes in the various rooms. I remember sitting on the front step…just waiting. I was so desperate for them to finish because my dad promised me that we could go to Waldenbooks – does anyone remember Waldenbooks? – if I stayed out of the way.

Finally, the movers packed up their supplies and left.  And off we went to the bookstore. I have always loved bookstores. Even when I was little, I knew that there were amazing stories just waiting for me. I enjoyed searching the shelves until I found the perfect book. That day, I picked Cinderella. I couldn’t wait until bedtime so I could ask my Dad to read it to me.

That’s one moment when reading brightened my day. In my lifetime, there are too many to count. Once I was able to read on my own, you couldn’t stop me. There were many nights when I stayed up late to finish a book, keeping the light dim so my mom wouldn’t know I was still awake. I heard warnings that I would ruin my eyes. That didn’t deter me. (Note: The fact that I wear glasses now is unrelated.)

In school, English class is where I would shine. I understood the power of words. When I went to my math classes, I felt I was in a foreign land. The teacher and my classmates conversed in the local language while I sat there confused. Literature was my home. I understood it and its rules. I scrutinized character development, themes and figurative language even before I knew those terms.

Eventually, when I entered Boston College, I chose to pursue a double major in secondary education and English because I wanted to help students love words like I do. Yes, reading always brought me joy, but it also allowed me to accomplish my goals. My school performance, college acceptance, and current employment all happened, in part, because I can read.

I am proud to work at Reach because it allows me to support students who feel about reading like I did about math. Whether the books that kept me company when I moved to a new town, or the words on the applications I completed to achieve significant life goals, my ability to read has been something I have leaned on my whole life. If our kids do the work now, books and words will be #AlwaysThere for them, too.

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#AlwaysThere: Mr. Vincent

Through the end of the year, we’ll be sharing stories that demonstrate our year-end campaign theme: #AlwaysThere. It’s what inspires Reach’s work, and it’s what we try to be for our kids. We hope you’ll use #AlwaysThere to tell us your stories using Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

And, when so inspired, we hope you’ll visit www.reachincorporated.org/alwaysthere to make a contribution.

This post is authored by R.E.L., a Lead Tutor at Ballou Senior High School, about Mr. Vincent, a Reach Program Instructor for the last three years.

It was just too much. They had given us a list of things we were required to take, but with all the life I had going on, I hadn’t been able to get everything. I was supposed to take a gift card with all my spending money. I was supposed to have hiking boots. Oh, and I needed a ride.

If I didn’t get to Cardozo soon, I would miss the bus. I was supposed to be leaving for an eleven-day trip to Guatemala with the DCPS Global Studies Program. I was definitely nervous, but I was excited, too.

I texted Mr. Vincent: “I’m not going.”

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R.E.L. holds up her #AlwaysThere poster, listing names of many people who support her unconditionally, including Reach alumnus Rico, Reach Lead Tutor Romel, and, on the right side in yellow,
Mr. Vincent.

Things weren’t going my way. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and everything was beginning to overwhelm me. I didn’t want to tell him at first, because I knew we were both excited about me going on this trip. He had helped me every step of the way so I could go. I couldn’t not tell him. I was expecting questions: What happened? What’s the issue? Are you nervous? Instead, he replied, “I’m on my way.”

When he arrived, he already had the gift card. When I told him I didn’t have the money, he said, “Don’t worry about it.”

I asked, “What about the boots?” He said, “Maybe you can find some there. We’re running out of time! Get in the car.”

I threw my stuff in the back seat and got in the car. We made it to Cardozo in record time…but the bus had already left. He asked where we were flying from, and I said the most dreaded word possible:

Dulles.

Again, he said, “Get in the car.”

We made it. I found my group, I got on the plane, and I had a great trip to Guatemala. This isn’t the first time that Mr. Vincent has been there for me, and it probably won’t be the last. He’s like a mentor – almost a father figure – to me.

When I think about that trip, I realize I would have been sad if I wasn’t there. That’s why I’m so glad that Mr. Vincent is #AlwaysThere.

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#AlwaysThere: Ms. Jusna

Through the end of the year, we’ll be sharing stories that demonstrate our year-end campaign theme: #AlwaysThere. It’s what inspires Reach’s work, and it’s what we try to be for our kids. We hope you’ll use #AlwaysThere to tell us your stories using Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

And, when so inspired, we hope you’ll visit www.reachincorporated.org/alwaysthere to make a contribution.

Because of the current political environment, this writer – A Reach alumna – has chosen to remain anonymous.

When I first met Ms. Jusna, I barely talked. She never stopped. She smiled so much, and she always acted like she was so excited to see me. You see, I had learned to stay quiet. I focused on school and stayed out of the way. But Ms. Jusna wouldn’t let me hide in the back.

Occasionally, she would drive me home from work. You ever notice it’s easier to talk to someone when you’re not looking right at them? That’s what happened with us. Sometimes I even would sing along with the radio. I started to trust her, and I opened up about how life at home wasn’t always easy.

Screen Shot 2017-12-01 at 4.10.16 PMIt was Ms. Jusna who listened to me. It was Ms. Jusna who helped me believe in myself. It was Ms. Jusna who was such a great cheerleader for me. About a year ago, Ms. Jusna left Reach. But, that didn’t mean that she left me. We still talked. She stayed connected and committed.

During my senior year, I couldn’t stay at home anymore. I had a mattress on a friend’s floor. But Ms. Jusna would always check in. Sometimes, she would pick me up and we’d spend time together. She taught me to cook. Well, she tried.

I go to college now. I stayed local and have an apartment with some classmates. Earlier this year, when it was announced that DACA would end, I got scared. That would be a very big deal for me. For the first time in my life, I wanted to protest. I wanted to fight for what’s right. I wasn’t that quiet girl anymore. I texted Ms. Jusna, and she offered to go with me. As we stood on the sidewalk, I saw some folks walk into the street.

“What are they doing?” I asked.

“They’re going to block the street as a form of protest,” Ms. Jusna explained.

“Should we go?” I asked.

“That’s up to you. We can do as much as you’re comfortable doing.”

I walked into the street. Ms. Jusna was right next to me. Since my first day at Reach, that’s where she’s always been. #AlwaysThere.

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#AlwaysThere: My Mother

Through the end of the year, we’ll be sharing stories that demonstrate our year-end campaign theme: #AlwaysThere. It’s what inspires Reach’s work, and it’s what we try to be for our kids. We hope you’ll use #AlwaysThere to tell us your stories using Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

And, when so inspired, we hope you’ll visit www.reachincorporated.org/alwaysthere to make a contribution.

by Mark Hecker, Reach’s Executive Director

As a teen, I struggled. It’s what drew me to this work. My father died, and I didn’t know how to handle it. In retrospect, my trauma was far less chronic and complex than that faced by many of the young people I work with today. But, to me, my world was dark. I wasn’t always easy to deal with, but my mother never waivered. She was #AlwaysThere.

When I yelled and slammed doors and treated my brother poorly and refused to give my best effort in school FullSizeRender(35)and…and…and… my mother continued to provide her support. For sports competitions and music performances, she did something that drives my work every single day: She showed up. Whether it be 20 minutes to my high school or eight hours to my college, she made the drive. I could count on her being there.

And, with time and support, I came out the other side. Things started getting less dark. Now that I have some clinical training, I can see that I was able to overcome a pretty serious bout with depression. Back then, I just thought life was miserable. But, my darkest moment was just a phase. It wasn’t my future.

And that’s the grace I try to give to every one of our kids today. On their best days, I treat their behavior like it is the strScreen Shot 2017-11-28 at 8.34.05 PMongest possible predictor of their future. On their bad days, it’s just a phase. I stand here today, and I’m able to do this work, because my mother believed that about me. All our young people deserve that grace.

So, today, I launch our #AlwaysThere campaign with a donation in honor of my mother. When, in 2009, I decided to take my student loans and start a nonprofit, she was nervous. But, when I hosted our first fundraising event, she did what she always does: She showed up.

Like my mom, I want to be #AlwaysThere.

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Tutor Profile: Dartavius

by Elizabeth Spagnoletti

A junior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, Dartavius is an unassuming, soft-spoken teenager with clear answers.

When asked why he applied to be a Reach Incorporated tutor, he admits he came for the money but stayed for a different reason. “I realized it was a fun working and learning experience,” he says. “I learned leadership skills, how to value others, and teamwork.”

While he only “somewhat” likes working with younger students, Dartavius makes it look easy. Last year, he arrived at a tutoring sesDartavius w studentsion exhausted from a persistent headache. The classroom was particularly loud. His student was particularly energetic. Dartavius decided they would first play a short game together. After that, Dartavius says, “He calmed down. He did his work. Then we read a book.”

Perhaps this was the inspiration for a book he co-authored this summer, Madison, Sit Down!, about a hyper-active girl and her imaginary friend.  Dartavius names the message of the story:  “It’s not always time to play. There’s a time to be serious and a time to play.”

Dartavius is an excellent model of this very message. He is both a serious student and committed to his basketball team. Teamwork is a common theme in his comments on Reach. “Before we [tutors] go to the site,” he explains, “we have to discuss what we’re going to do when we get to the [elementary] school. When we’re in there, we have to work as a team to develop a plan to get [the students] to do their work and be focused and actually learn something while they’re there.”

Teamwork is important for Program Instructors, too, Dartavius notes. If he were to evaluate a prospective Program Instructor, he would ask the candidate about working in group situations. Though a lot of work at Reach is done as individual, Dartavius feels what that individual brings to the team is just as important.

Despite his straightforward and business-like communication style, Dartavius has a creative side. His favorite class is AP Studio Art. Since third grade, he has loved drawing. “I had this one teacher that I lScreen Shot 2017-11-07 at 9.15.24 AMiked very much,” he recalls. “He helped me grow passionate for art.”

Unsurprisingly, Dartavius has immensely enjoyed co-authoring children’s books in Reach’s Summer Leadership Academy. Coming up with the idea for his first book Drip-Drip is one of his most memorable experiences with Reach. In the initial idea toss around with the Shout Mouse Press facilitators, everyone said the first thing that came to mind. “Someone said ‘angry,’” Dartavius recalls, “and I said ‘ice cream.’ And that’s kind of where the story came from.”

With his passion for drawing and one book already under his belt, this summer, the Shout Mouse Press illustrator let Dartavius contribute to the artwork for his second book.

Eager to pursue art, design, and architecture in college, Dartavius sees himself becoming either an architect or video game designer. “I like video games,” he says, “and I like drawing. I would like to see my pieces being played by people around the world.”

But that is further down the line. In the next two years, Dartavius is focused on ending high school on the highest note possible. “I want to leave my mark on my high school…in a good way,” Dartavius says, “like how you see in Dunbar the floor plaques and wall plaques of people who went there before, and now they’re famous. I want my name plastered somewhere inside the school.”

Join us as we release four new teen-authored books on Thursday, November 16th. For more information, visit www.reachincorporated.org/events.

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Alumni Profile: Marc & Ricardo

They were inseparable until they were separated. They had both finished 10th grade at a local charter school when the announcement was made: The school was going to close. They could have both stayed for 11th grade, but they knew it was best to avoid a 12th grade transfer. Marc transferred to Ballou, Ricardo to Dunbar.

MarcMarc had completed two years as a tutor. He was a two-time author – The Airplane Effect and Mariah Finds a Way – and he earned the Junior Staff Hoodie. When Ricardo started as an 11th grade student at Dunbar, he had recently completed his first book, The Real DC: A to Z. He had only been a tutor for one year, and we were sad to lose him.

Though they ended up at different schools, they remained friends. 11th grade happened. And twelfth grade. Both Marc and Ricardo graduated from high school.

In August of 2016, Marc left for Paul Quinn College, a unique school in Texas. Part of the work college consortium, Paul Quinn makes college affordable by giving each student a job that covers part of the annual tuition. Ricardo went to work at for DC’s Metro system. He had gotten into college, but he didn’t think Ricardo he had the money.

Marc thrived during his first year. He did well in his classes, he adjusted to college life, and he enjoyed the Paul Quinn experience. Interested in a career in restaurant management, Marc worked in the school’s dining hall. He remained in touch with Ricardo, consistently telling him about his college experience.

Marc encouraged Ricardo to join him at Paul Quinn. Don’t let money scare you away, he said. But, inertia is real and applying to college isn’t easy

But, over the summer, Marc wore him down. I got an excited text in August. “Guess where ‘Cardo is?” Marc asked. “He’s at orientation in Dallas!”

Today, Marc and RicardFullSizeRender(30)o are reunited as students at Paul Quinn College in Dallas, Texas. Thousands of miles from the school that first brought them together, they are back in class together.

At Reach, we talk often about how to assess our young people’s growth as leaders. It’s a hard concept to measure. But, undoubtedly, Marc has shown us true leadership. He saw Ricardo’s potential, he encouraged his friend to join him, and, together, they will become college graduates.

Recently, I spoke with Ricardo. When asked about school, he said, “It’s different, but a good kind of different. I think I’m going to like it here.” And, seeing them together, I know they’re going to be okay.

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Tutor Profile: De’Asia

By Elizabeth Spagnoletti

De’Asia likes a challenge.

Though English is her favorite subject, she chose to enroll in the Dr. Charles Drew STEM Academy at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School.  “I’m learning to like math,” she says of the irony.Screen Shot 2017-08-30 at 11.07.11 PM

Also, unlike many teenagers, she loves her high school.  “It’s full of energy,” she says.  During her first week of sophomore year, she visited her former English teacher’s classroom every day.  “I told him he could not call anybody else his favorite student because I’m his favorite student,” she explained.

De’Asia is a sophomore and in her second year as a Reach Incorporated tutor.  This summer, she authored her first book. It will be released in November.

As a freshman, she joined Reach when a friend at Dunbar explained why he was always going to Walker-Jones Education Campus after school. It wasn’t an easy choice.  Taking AP classes, excelling as a student, and being a cheerleader take up a lot of time.  Why is De’Asia a Reach tutor, too?  “I like helping people,” she says.

Though young for her grade, De’Asia has a mature approach to school, friendships, and Reach.  She focuses on how people form and maintain bonds with one another.  And she is not interested in ephemeral relationships; she wants depth and substance.

For many teenagers, forming these relationships is a challenge.  But, De’Asia has it covered.  In dealing with younger students, she says, “You have to be patient.  You have to have good communication skills.  You have to know how to form a bond without being mean.”

De’Asia can practice what she preaches.  Last year, the Walker-Jones student she tutored would not show up for tutoring002 - Dunbar if he thought De’Asia was not going to be there.  It gave her impetus to show up consistently and do her best work, knowing that someone was counting on her.  Even though this student was quiet in the beginning, by the end of the year, De’Asia says their relationship was that of a little brother and older sister.

Clearly, bonding is something De’Asia does well.  She formed a close community with other Reach tutors, even ones that do not attend Dunbar.  She is proud of this group and excited that she found commonalities with people she never would have met outside the program.  “They were different breeds of people,” she says of her friends through Reach.  “They didn’t act like normal teenagers.  They were serious.  But then they played.  And they cared a lot about family, just like me.”

De’Asia will graduate in 2020, the same year her little brother graduates from Walker-Jones.  After she graduates, she wants to go to North Carolina A&T State University and become a journalist.  As a soon-to-be-published author and opinionated young woman, she is on the right path.  In fact, this summer, through Reach’s Summer Leadership Academy, De’Asia met award-winning journalist Wes Lowery.  “I have his email,” she says casually.

For De’Asia, the challenge is the opportunity.  Her attitude toward life can best be described by the title of the movie that inspired her to become a cheerleader:  Bring It On.

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