Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tis the season

Since it is the official season of peace on earth and good will toward all, I am going to share a story with you of a fantastic non-profit group that I recently became aware of. Earlier this year, Mr. Go-Knit-In-Your-Hat became involved with the local office of a national nonprofit organization called Summer Search. Summer Search's mission: to find low-income high school students and help nurture them so that they graduate high school, continue on to college and become productive, altruistic members of the community. I really like the way the program seeks to make a difference one kid at a time, through lots of individualized help.

Summer Search starts by getting referrals from teachers and principals in identifying disadvantaged students who demonstrate potential for reflection, altruism and performance. Once they enter the program, students participate in four aspects of the Summer Search program.
  • Each student is assigned a mentor and meets with their mentor for weekly sessions. The mentor helps coach the student, give them insight into their behavior, help them with any problems they are having, and generally gives emotional support. A big emphasis is placed on helping the student to be accountable for their actions.
  • Each student gets a scholarship to take two trips, one in the summer before the junior year, and one in the summer before the senior year. These trips are designed to build the student's confidence in his/her abilities, to show them the broader world out there (a lot of these kids have never been outside Philadelphia) and help the student gain valuable experience. Past trips have included participating in Outward Bound, community service trips to the Dominican Republic, study abroad programs in China, and other amazing experiences.
  • Each student gets help in applying to colleges, including individualized help with the admissions forms and financial aid counseling.
  • Each student participates in a host of "alumni" services, like helping them with networking events, providing internships and finding mentors for them.

Tom and I attended a dinner at a West Philly high school a few months ago designed to celebrate the achievements of the Summer Search students. We were knocked out by these outstanding kids. Part of the process involves coaching the kids on social skills so that they're comfortable talking to adults, including things that seem like common sense but aren't at all intuitive if you haven't been taught them -- like looking people straight in the eye, shaking hands upon being introduced and speaking without mumbling. Tom and I were greeted by so many of these smart, accomplished kids. They were bursting with stories about their summer experiences and rightfully proud of the colleges they'd been accepted to.

Check out the statistics: 99.6 percent of Summer Search students graduate from high school, 96% go to college, 89% graduate from college or are on track to do so, and 72% are involved in some sort of community service.

So if you happen to be feeling altruistic, please keep Summer Search in mind. There are Summer Search offices in Philadelphia, San Francisco, North San Francisco Bay, Boston, NYC, Seattle and Silicon Valley. A link for secure on-line donations is here. Summer Search is also looking for volunteers to do everything from take students on a "breaking-in" hike to mentoring to creating internship positions to writing letters to the newspaper for publicity, and for more ideas on how to help (many of which don't involve giving money), you can go here. I'm going to do a fundraiser through my blog for this group sometime in early 2011, so you'll be hearing more about Summer Search during the coming year.

3 comments:

Tikabelle said...

Wow, Carol, that is an amazing program! I'm thrilled that there are so many in my (Northern California) area! I'm going to email them after the holidays and see if they've thought about opening a branch in Sacramento, where I live now. Being at the seat of government provides a lot of opportunities for donors, as well as for kids to meet people they might never otherwise lay eyes on.

THANK YOU for posting about this. I have a bee in my bonnet now.

pamela said...

Thanks for promoting Summer Search! We've gotten to know it the last few years in SF and it is a GREAT program.

M-H said...

These programs can do much good. I support a local one called The Smith Family, which supports low income kids. I specially support their high-school program. They have employees who work in the bigger low-income area high schools keeping track of kids who get lost in the system etc. SOme of my money is also targetted for sending kids to school camps and excursions, because often these kids miss out because their parents can't come up woth the dosh at the time.

When I retire I'd like to spend some time volunteering in this organisation.