Investing in the future

a letter from our Executive Director – Rob Prestowitz

Dear Friend,

Sara Parks is struggling. Sara’s family is struggling. And there is no prospect of that ending anytime soon. The pandemic is an interruption in my life, not likely an irreversible, unrecoverable catastrophe. But Sara and her family may not recover from it. And there are a lot of families like them.

Sara’s mom, Ms. Parks, is working two jobs while worrying that she can’t be home to watch her kids. Mrs. Raines, our elementary school principal, has two of Ms. Parks’ children on-line in the UrbanPromise School. 

While visiting her home to solve computer problems, she noticed that they could use a couch and dining room chairs. Not having furniture is not a catastrophe, but it’s not helpful and it is an indicator of stress. That’s why Mrs. Raines took action, commandeered her two sons, my truck, and stopped that particular source of stress. It all adds up.

Sara has been in our UrbanPromise Academy for three plus years. She shines in my opinion. Not because she gets the best grades or does everything right, but because her faith is real and she allows it to have a bearing on her actions. Like I said, not every time – but when it counts. This school year her performance has declined steadily as evidenced by a huge backlog of uncompleted assignments. I wanted to learn Sara’s perspective on this long slog of pandemic schooling.

“The first weeks of the pandemic I was like “yay, no school!”, Sara began, “But then it felt like everything got low, everybody got lazy. I allowed myself to develop bad habits in the quarantine. There was a lot of stress. My mom worked in a hospital and we couldn’t even hug her when she came home because she had to sanitize all her clothes each time.”

“I dreaded the thought of coming back to school this fall and staring at the computer all day. I wasn’t doing my work and fell further and further behind, when Ms. Choe and Mr. Luke met with me to talk about goals.”

“We’d done this before and it felt like we were rehearsing the same thing again. And I thought, maybe it’s not the goals, maybe it’s not the support team, maybe it’s me! Maybe I’m afraid to show what is missing and that I actually don’t have it all together.”

“There’s a standard you have to meet and that’s just reality, and when you see that other people are meeting that standard and you see that you’re not living up to the standard it’s like something inside of you literally breaks.”

“My teachers have done their part, it’s now on me. I’ve submitted to the idea of consistently desiring to do my homework. Ms Choe (our math teacher) has been meeting with me early in the morning and during lunch and I’m knocking out the homework. There’s a push, there’s a drive that I have to actually want to succeed right now. My teachers can motivate me, they can believe in me all they want, but if I don’t have confidence in me…” She hesitated as a thought came to her mind.

“Mr. Bob is my tutor. He’s a very structured man. He tells me, ‘Sara, we’re working on math! You have to have confidence ’cause if you don’t have confidence you won’t believe in yourself and if you don’t believe in yourself you won’t actually allow yourself to even try!’ That really hit me.”

“Something I’ve always said about UrbanPromise Academy is there is a supernatural, indescribable love that the teachers have for the students. Like even though you’re falling short time after time, the teachers do so many extra things like coming to your door or meeting with the parents because they desire for the student to succeed. There’s something different here about how the teachers really love the students.”

I asked Ms. Choe how she felt when Sara fails?

“It hurts. I’m human so I wonder does Sara really know what I’m doing for her? Does she know what I’m not doing so I can make my time available to her? You feel helpless. You know that they have to meet you halfway. I feel like I’m running and I hit this invisible wall. I’m trying to get close to her but I can’t get close to her unless she meets me at the wall. We pray for our students when we hit the wall.”

“For about three weeks now, Sara’s been consistent. She re-logs on to Zoom as soon as school ends and doesn’t even take a lunch break and we work on the homework. What she’s saying is lining up with her actions. She’s meeting me half way.”

Mr. Bob shared with me that he felt their tutoring sessions on Zoom were not productive. Then he learned that she didn’t have a mouse to navigate the spreadsheets. He got her one and productivity was an order of magnitude better. “Something as small as that made such a difference in performance,” he told me.

A manger isn’t much of a bed, but two thousand years later we still talk about it because of who it was for. Couches, chairs, a mouse – they’re not much, but it’s who’s using them and why that makes them matter.

When Sara is an adult? “I want to help people,” she told me, “As long as I am changing someone, as long as I know I’m doing what God wants me to do I’m going to be content in doing that.” What a great future to invest in. Look at the response card. Sara is trying. Ms. Choe is laying it all down. Ms. Parks is holding it all together against difficult odds. Consider your blessings and offer a generous response on behalf of children and families for whom this crisis is a catastrophe.

Thank you, and Merry Christmas!

Rob Prestowitz
Executive Director