"Last year, Delores was the 7th grader who just didn't behave. Everyone said so," recalls Cory Parker, After-School All-Stars volunteer coach, board member, and former student of George Washington Middle School* the same Washington, D.C. middle school where Delores was quickly getting a bad reputation.
When After-School All-Stars started recruiting kids for a basketball and mentorship camp in early April, Delores' named appeared flagged on a list we received from her school. The flag indicated students with behavioral problems: fighting, showing up late, having a bad attitude. Delores had recently been suspended for fighting. "Her school leaders said 'Don't let her in to the camp,'" Cory remembers. "'It'll be hard for you and ruin it for the good kids.'"
Cory was angered, even appalled. To him, Delores was EXACTLY the kind of kid we wanted to work with -- if anyone needed us, Delores certainly did.
"When camp started, I immediately noticed Delores' intimidating swagger," Cory says. "She was loud, outspoken, stubborn, and interrupted others -- students and adults alike. During one basketball game not long after camp started, she and another player almost got into a confrontation. I paused with bated breath -- desperately hoping we weren't about to have a fight on our hands. Instead, she walked over to the sideline where I was sitting to cool off and we starting talking. It became clear to me that Delores wanted to behave better, but was lonely and defensive -- she needed someone to listen to, someone to encourage her. When she finished talking, I told her that she was such a good speaker, she should consider being a lawyer. She looked at me surprised, and said, 'That's exactly what I want to be when I grow up.'"
This type of "a-ha" moment is not at all uncommon in the programs run by After-School All-Stars, a national organization that focuses on afterschool enrichment programs for the middle school grades. It's easy to forget that middle school students -- especially those living without the support of positive adult role models at home -- are often unprepared for the decisions, behaviors and goal-oriented activities that can put them on the path to success in high school, college and beyond.
When the basketball camp ended, Delores started participating in After-School All-Stars' afterschool programs every day. After-School All-Stars' caring staff listened to her, introduced her to activities where her outspoken and stubborn tendencies were channeled into positive avenues, and helped her see herself as a valued member of her school community. Delores truly found her stride in the entrepreneurship enrichment class, leading the effort to open a school store selling healthy snacks.
"I continued to check-in on her throughout the rest of the semester and could see perceptions of Delores changing around the school as her peers and teachers saw her blossoming leadership skills," says Cory. In June, Delores was nominated to be one of eight students in our program's Youth Advisory Board and attended a leadership summit this past summer where she participated in an intimate meeting with U.S. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid. "I've heard the school leaders say how shocked they are at Delores' transformation within only three months, especially the ones who told us not to let her participate."
Today, you'll see Delores' name on the sign-up sheet for flag football team and on the enrichment class roster. You can hear her happy voice booming down the hall as she takes visitors on tours of the program as an official Youth Advisory Board representative. But you won't find her name flagged on any lists of 'bad' kids. "Now when I see Dolores," says Cory, "She beams at me, radiating confidence. What a remarkable young lady!"
*Name has been changed to protect privacy
This post is part of a series produced in celebration of #GivingTuesday, which will take place this year (2014) on December 2. The idea behind #GivingTuesday is to kickoff the holiday-giving season, in the same way that Black Friday and Cyber Monday kickoff the holiday-shopping season. The Huffington Post will feature posts on #GivingTuesday all month in November. To see all the posts in the series, visit here; follow the conversation via #GivingTuesday and learn more here.
And if you'd like to share your own #GivingTuesday story, please send us your 500-850-word post to impactblogs@huffingtonpost.
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