Dear Reach Team:
This year was the first time it became real to me. I had to let go. For so long, I had been the primary relationship for so many of our tutors and students. This year, I had to stop. I had to realize the Reach was only as strong as you. It was your relationships with our kids that mattered most.
Leaving Beacon House on Tuesday, I drove Chynna (pictured, right, in 2010) home. She’s a staff member now, but she was also one of our first tutors. She told me Ms. Quilla was a great. “She’s so calm,” Chynna said. “I can’t imagine someone being better.” Of note, who was Chynna’s first Reach instructor? Me. You win, Ms. Quilla.
That day, I also got to stop by Anacostia. Ms Dynesha and Mr. Chibundu have created relationships beyond what I could have expected. On Thursday, I learned that the tutors didn’t want to leave. Eventually, Ms. Crockett (our liaison teacher) said, “I might get in trouble if you all don’t leave.” Think about that. Think about what that means.
On Wednesday, I got to see Ms. Michelle run our final session at Perry Street Prep. The high school that gave birth to Reach will close at the end of the year. Reach may end for some of those tutors, but our impact will not. Dainah stopped by. So did Sejal and Q’Juan. So many kids and so much history. And Ms. Michelle brought so much care and love to that place. We saw such big smiles as our teens worked their last day. Such big smiles.
On Thursday, I stopped by Ballou. When I tried to thank Tre’Shawn, he said, “Thank me? Nah. Thank you for the family.” The security guard started bragging to me about how much the Brown twins have grown. “I know,” I said. Such a powerful compliment from the woman that once threw one of those kids out of the school. It’s amazing to see what love Ms. Sully brought to that place. And Mr. JT brings a quiet maturity that has grown with his skillset. There is no bigger cheerleader for our Ballou kids…and one day, they will recognize how much that matters.
I ended Thursday at Eastern. The students thanked Mr. James for his help and Ms. Lori for being born. Some of our alums came back for the last session, just because. It’s a beautiful thing to see the power of our long-standing relationships juxtaposed with the strength of our new ones.
On Thursday, I had lunch with Daquan, a tutor from our first cohort. As a 9th grader, he was a lot like one of our current Eastern 9th grade students (Damontay). Now, Daquan is entering his second year of college. He is motivated to be the first Reach tutor to attain a post-secondary degree – he’s scheduled to get his associates next spring. He watched so many people quit, and he talked about Reach’s role in creating the person he is now, a person who would never consider quitting.
Ms. Kelly and Ms. Jusna rushed around to say goodbye to as many people as possible. They now know my pain – caring so much, but being constantly told you’re not there enough. Teens are never afraid to tell you what they’re thinking. The fact that they care that you’re not around enough is what you should always remember.
This week, I was interviewed for a magazine article. After talking to some of our tutors, our students, and our staff, the reporter asked, “Do you tell them to use the word family, or is that organic?” It felt very authentic for me to reply: “We set out to build a literacy program. The kids taught us we’re a family. We’ve never told them to use the word family, but it makes me tear up every time I hear it.”
Thank you for sharing your gifts, for loving our kids, and for being part of our team. We know now that some of you will return and others won’t. Please know we will invite you to graduations and share continued successes. Because, if you’ve learned nothing else, I hope you’ll always remember that family is permanent – and I hope Mr. Jeremiah, Ms. Leigh, Mr. Pierre, Ms. Cavena, and others would tell you the same.
My thoughts are scattered and my confidence strong. You taught me that we can build a program – but, more importantly, a family – with your help. We can serve more kids. We can change narratives. We can develop readers. We can do so much. You made me matter less. And, quite honestly, there is no greater gift you could have given me.