“What is success?  To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived; that is to have succeeded.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

This quote was in my head this morning as I was reflecting on the powerful experience I had last night at a College Bound meeting in North East Washington DC.  As a part of the curriculum of one of my graduate courses I’ve taken on College Bound as a client, for research reasons I attended a Thursday night study session at The Beacon House location. 

College Bound’s main goal is to pair students with adult mentors to see that underserved children not only graduate from high school but go on to attend a college of their choice.  Last night, students and mentors were serious about meeting that goal. 

It sounds cliché but there was something very special about last night’s meeting.  There was power in that room; a tangible feeling that these people – students and mentors – were fighting to ensure that these students would be the exception to the rule.  And the rule in DC is staggering; 11 children drop out of DC public schools each day, and according to a 2009 Washington Post article, the on-time graduation rate for DCPS has fallen below 50 percent.  Standing by and watching our children fail is heart breaking.  But the power in a program like College Bound is that adults and kids play an active role in ensuring that kids succeed.

I interviewed two kids last night and one of them, a young lady, looked me in the eye and told me that in her school she had to be her own advocate because the overwhelming majority of students made the learning environment extremely challenging.  So basically, it was not easy to go to school, and sit in class and just learn; as my grandfather used to say – that thing almost choked me up. 

I can’t imagine having to deal with all of the stress of being a teenager in high-school, and dealing with the frustration of realizing that the majority of your peers are sabotaging your learning environment…and the kids that I met last night are smart enough to see that education is the way out.  To feel that your way out is sabotaged most likely explains the intolerable behavior that we witness on the streets, but I digress. 

DS Download:  Although I almost choked up there was nothing sad about College Bound, there was only inspiration; Inspiration that adults wanted to volunteer their time to these kids, and inspiration that these kids are fighting for their future – in spite of the odds, and the very real circumstances that surround them.  Unfortunately, a young girl (not affiliated with College Bound) was shot and killed outside of the Beacon House just a week before.  She was a victim of random community violence.  Last night the College Bound site coordinator told me that many of the children knew this girl, and had attended her funeral services earlier in the day, and in spite of all of that, they were still at College Bound, meeting with their mentors and doing their homework. 

These young kids are FIGHTING to learn, and be better and if that’s not a living testimony then I don’t what is.   

In these tough times its easy for many of us to question our success – are we making enough money?  Are we driving the right car?  Have we met the right person?  etc…but I guess the real question is – have we set out to affect a child’s life?  When I think of success stories, I think of the adults and the children that were in that room last night. 

If you live in the Washington DC area and have time to become a mentor and affect a child’s life please contact College Bound at 202.842.0858 – site locations and times are as follows:

– Mondays, 6:30-8:30pm @ Sherwood Recreation Center
– Mondays, 6:30-8:30pm @ Gonzaga High School
– Wednesdays, 6-8pm @ Cesar Chavez Public Carters School Capitol Hill Campus
– Thursday, 6-8pm @ Beacon House Community Center


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