By Katie Sobiech
Though Love Akron is off to a wonderful start with their Findley Community Learning Center (CLC) Project, they’ve realized it is going to take an enormous amount of effort in many different areas to make this a success.
It truly will take a village, or community, to touch these children’s lives.
To realize their dreams and create a model that works and can be of lasting impact, it needs to create change in measurable ways.
Though the task ahead is great, they aren’t backing down when it comes to the future of the kids at Findley.
Throughout this process, Love Akron has realized that not everyone who volunteered will be as available as they would like to be. Not everyone who signed up can be there at 3:00 to tutor kids, or is available during school hours.
These time conflicts keep some volunteers from being active. So they are brainstorming to find other ways to get them involved.
“We’re finding that one shoe doesn’t fit all and it’s going to have to be really specialized,” Ford explained of the process.
Currently they are working on mechanisms to stay in touch with volunteers.
“We need a weekly (newsletter) that tells people stories and lets them know that they’re making a difference,” Ford said.
The Ultimate Dream
“If I could snap my fingers (we would all) have a student and call them once a week and ask ‘how are your grades?’ And we’d stop in once in a while and have lunch with them. That’s ideal,” Ford said of his vision.
“We’re starting with adopting a school, getting volunteers into the classroom and helping with additional programs,” Penny said of their baby steps.
“If we could have every elementary, high school and middle school eventually, that would be Mark’s vision right now. Adopt-a-child is very ambitious and I would love to say that would happen, to give these children relationships,” she continued.
But starting with the school is their first step.
Summit Education Initiative
Part of reaching their ultimate goal includes academic impact in the children’s lives. This is where the Summit Education Initiative steps in, with the help of their Director Derran Wimer.
“Their role is basically to move the academic needle in the schools of Summit County. So they’ve developed this journey of benchmarks that they are seeking to try make happen within the schools,” Ford explained.
Love Akron asked Wimer to help with the metrics and outcomes side of this project. Wimer, a former school superintendent, understands academia, politics and the governance that’s tied to education.
“We couldn’t have chosen a better teammate,” Ford said.
Doing Things Right
“If we don’t have some ways to really measure whether we move the needle or not then all we’ve done is some really nice things. So the critical part is, is the needle moving when it comes to scores?” Ford said.
“My mantra,” he continued “is, if the school is failing it’s not a commentary on the staff or administration, it’s a commentary on the community because we let it happen. It takes a village. That is something I’m very concerned for, that we don’t just get up and make everybody leave feeling good, but that we really are moving the needle in a way that people say ‘who are we kidding ourselves, we need a 501c3, someone fully engaged that does nothing but try to get people engaged in the school system and adopt schools’.”
“Everybody wants an exciting story, but there’s so many flash in the pan kind of stories where it all looked good on paper, it all showed good on a video, but the hard truth was it wasn’t working,” Ford said.
“We’re seeking to develop the template of what’s working,” he continued.
Love Akron is still developing the organizational piece of the project, so that Mark’s true vision can become a reality, which is that every child has someone who knows their name, beyond somebody that has to, and every teacher has a support system so they can solely give themselves to teaching.
“We’ve got a long way to go, but I think we’re off to a good start,” Ford said.
Modeling this Project
Though it’s a great idea, and something they would like to see in every school, Ford isn’t ready to duplicate this model yet.
“I’m using this as a test pilot and looking for other ways to engage the church in this process,” he said.
“We believe we’re going to have divine appointments, supernatural setups, godly, wonderful surprises… All we did was just show up and say ‘what can we do?’” Ford said.
“If this inspires another church or two, or organization to say ‘I can do that in my neighborhood’ that would be the biggest compliment ever,” Penny added.
“And people that don’t think a church and school can work together, it takes a long range look and brave principal that says ‘we can make this work’. You may not get statistics that we can improve 3rd grade test scores this year, but we get those tutors up and going and I think you’re going to see a big difference in the kids and school.”
For anyone interested, they continue to have monthly team meetings.
“Love Akron has been fabulous to work with, and their passion for Akron,” Penny said, admirably.
“I’m in love with the school and in love with the staff. It’s such a unique space, they love their children there,” she continued.
Ford speaks highly of Penny’s tremendous work and the time she’s put towards this project.
“She’s falling in love with the inner city schools,” he said.
As for the future, Ford says “We hope to have a pretty broad ranged clothing distribution center and do more than just minister to the kids.”
We will be keeping you posted on their future endeavors, as well as the changes that are being made in the schools.
For more information on Love Akron and to find out how you can get involved, please visit http://www.loveakron.org.
If you have any story ideas, questions, or comments you can contact: Katie@akroneur.com.