written and shared by Robert L. Dean
I suspect I am probably like many of you out there fearing that the sea of problems in our community is so great and worrying that my boat feels so small. Crime, sickness, homelessness, racism, even litter, and the list goes on.
I ask myself…
What can I really do as an individual to make a difference?
What can my firm HMV do to make a difference?
What can we as a community do to make a difference?
I have always believed that, for the most part, God speaks to us in whispers; however, he spoke to me loudly and clearly one day, a few years ago now, when I heard about Communities In Schools or CIS for the first time in the Volunteers of America conference room.
What continues to echo to this day is that CIS really could give us all a chance to transform things around here. The CIS task is simple: help your assigned child with their studies much like many of us helped our own children with their homework and our parents helped us.
Now, I’m a CPA, so I figure that I am good as a math tutor all the way until the sixth grade or so. It’s pretty basic on a technical level, but it’s much deeper than that. This is elbow-to-elbow, shoulder-to- shoulder interaction with someone who really needs you.
Let me briefly share something that happened about a month ago with one of my CIS students, Anna. Anna is 10 years old. She showed up for our usual hour that week, and I could tell that something was not right. She would not even make eye contact. Instead of jumping right into the math flash cards like we usually do, I remembered she had previously told me about her school dance line. I asked her if she has been dancing lately. Eyes remaining down, she said in a sad, soft voice, “No, not really.” I was struggling somewhat to figure out my next move when she lifted her head slightly, her eyes meeting mine, and said, “But, I do have practice this afternoon,” with a hint, a very small hint of a smile. I then asked her what her favorite songs were to dance to. She said, “Level Up” and “Wake Up”. Of course, I pretended to know all about them hoping she would not somehow call my bluff and do something like check my Spotify playlist, which would surely give me away as a stereotypical CPA. We talked about what fun practice was going to be. Then, I said, “But first, we have work to do.” Then, we spent the rest of the hour working harder than we ever had before, and she was in no time smiling that million-dollar smile.
I do not know why she was down that day, but she made it to a better place. I believe I played a role in helping her get to a better place, and in turn, got to a better place myself.
On another occasion, my wife and I were sharing a student, Jadon, who was 7 at the time. One day, when Darlene was not there, he asked, “Tell me about that woman that comes with you? Do you know that woman?” I said, “Yes.” Then, he asked, “You’re married to that woman?” I said, “Yes.” “How long have y’all been married?” “20 years.” Continuing and starting to smile, “Do you like her?” “Yes.” Grinning like Gomer Pyle and Stevie Wonder all wrapped up in one, “You love her!?” I said, “Absolutely!” Then, I figured we had gone far enough into the line of questioning, and that I had better quit while I was ahead, so we got to work. But I felt that short conversation was meaningful for Jadon. He was witnessing a grown man sharing feelings about his wife of many years. I felt my candid answers touched Jadon in ways I may never know.
So you see, it’s about much more than improving grades and test scores, although the academic results are undeniable. The 1:1 relationship allows windows of education into other facets of life that are just as important and lead to a more balanced and stable community. Windows into marriage, family values, home life, respect, dignity, connection, and commitment.
The reality is that education in all of these areas will help reduce crime, make us all healthier, reduce homelessness, foster better race relations, and even result in less litter on our streets — because we are valuing each other and where we all live and work.
WE, YOU AND I, ARE THE VOLUNTEERS OF AMERICA! It’s in our name. It’s in our DNA and we could use more Volunteers! It would be awesome if those of you who are able will hear the call and join me, my wife, my firm, and others making a one-on-one difference by contributing your time and money toward one of the many programs Volunteers of America brings us. CIS is but one example.
I’ve always felt better leaving a CIS session than I did going in – the sea of problems maybe not as big, and my boat maybe not so small.
Thank you for being here with us this morning! Have a great day!