Letter from Rob Prestowitz

Christmas 2017

Dear Friend,

Sylvia is reading chapter books! Her photo – radiating confidence, achievement, and pride – is something Sylvia has never felt in her whole life about reading or any academic success. As a rising 7th grader she was illiterate, and that deficit shaped her identity and future. Now there’s a new look – hope. Six weeks ago I shared she couldn’t read at a first grade level. In six weeks she’s developed phonics tools, she’s developed confidence, she’s shaping a new future. Honestly, I’m shocked. It’s a miracle. And if it can happen to Sylvia, why not all our kids?

This journey to hope started as despair in a typical moment of Sylvia’s sweetness. She loves God and she loves the Bible and she volunteered to read it at summer camp. Ten seconds passed, 30, a few sounds stuck in her throat as she tried to pronounce words and everybody in the room watched her. Shame is a terrible thing to witness. After more than a minute of this painful struggle, she ran from the room in tears and sobbed for a full hour while Naomi, her Camp Director, comforted her. This was a broken heart, this is what despair looks like when it’s young. Then it becomes full grown and looks like headlines – poverty, violence, injustice.

Despair. Have you seen it in the headlines lately?

Naomi knows headlines. A sixteen year old girl was murdered on Naomi’s steps just six months ago while she watched from her window. Naomi loves Sylvia and her Mom, Dianna. She sees how the daughter loves the Mom and how Mom loves her girl. They both love God. Naomi could see a different headline. But she would have to help write it.

I spoke with Ms. Dianna to understand the journey.

“Sylvia got good grades, she always had an IEP and made progress. But…” She looked down, her voice trailed off. “I knew she struggled to read.”

“My aunts would visit. They’d give her something to read to them but she couldn’t and they’d get impatient, ‘Why aren’t you payin’ attention?’ I would make something up to try to get her out of it and distract them.” Ms. Dianna paused, looked down again and tears streamed down her face. Despair.

“Naomi came to me. She wanted Sylvia to go to the Urban Promise School because it was a smaller setting and there’d be more one-on-one focus for her as an individual. She’s supposed to go to 7th grade but Naomi wanted her to stay back in 6th. It was hard for me to think about it. Would Sylvia want to go? Naomi is a good person. I trust that she wants the best for her. Even though Sylvia didn’t want to leave her friends, I knew this was a good opportunity for her.”

About a month ago things almost got derailed, right in the middle of Sylvia’s great progress. Ms. Dianna’s car is old and got a flat tire. She couldn’t afford to fix it. Imagine friends, how difficult are the decisions for a family that loses a car because they can’t afford to fix a flat? A flat tire is the difference between your child reading or not. Reading is rational. A flat tire is reality.

Ms. Dianna began to make arrangements to put Sylvia in public school so she could catch the bus. But we’d come too far to give up now. Naomi brought Ms. Dianna in to meet with our school principal, Rhonda, and Sylvia’s teacher, Adam Spangler.

“I was nervous. I felt so uncomfortable because it meant I don’t like to ask people for help. I felt like such a burden. But Mr. Spangler jumped up, ‘You’re part of the family. Burden is a cuss word around here.’ I was so glad he said that. I could tell he meant it and I knew things would be ok.”

They worked out a plan for emergency transportation. Our UrbanPromise mechanic, Nelson, helped a lot, and a friend of the ministry generously covered the balance. She has a working car again. (Her words: “It’s like new!”)

Good news from Ms. Dianna: “Sylvia brought her first chapter book home and read it to me several times.” Ms. Dianna’s face wasn’t crying now, and there was no despair. There was pride and joy with a huge smile. “Sylvia had practiced this book at school. But now she asked me if she should try her second book by herself. I said ‘Go for it!’ And she started reading. I was so proud! Reading the chapter book brought her hope. She can read!” That should be a headline!

The last thing I asked Ms. Dianna I’m asking you too. What do you want Sylvia’s life to be like in 20 years?

Ms. Dianna gazed into the distance, I could see her mind’s eye dreaming her own headline for Sylvia.

“She’d be established, she’d finish college, have a great job, buy a house, and maybe buy me one too. She’d have a good life.” A little hope can take us a long way.

I admire Ms. Dianna’s courage with the burden she has carried. It’s an honor, a privilege to partner with her and with you. We can impact the headlines with the choices we make, including supporting Sylvia, Dianna, and the UrbanPromise team, just like our mechanic and donor friend did. We can tell people Jesus carries the burden and demonstrate it by how we help. It costs us $1000 a month to educate Sylvia. We’re spending $50 in January to test her. Staff have stepped in to help with utilities at $250. $100 helps support Naomi or Adam as they write new headlines. $500 will offset our transportation costs. Your gift can give Sylvia and Ms. Dianna “a good life’!

Thank you and Merry Christmas! Pray for them!
~Rob

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