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Poverty project puts students to work

By Kathleen E. Conroy

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    Want information on SHARE Charlotte, and its nonprofit volunteer opportunities, www.sharecharlotte.com or emailsharecharlotte@gmail.com.



Providence Day School students recently kicked off a yearlong program called “Be the Change” by studying poverty in Mecklenburg County and obtaining hands-on experience with six different area organizations.

Classes were canceled for a day in early November, and 144 freshmen focused on what those living in poverty face as part of the three-part program organized by SHARE Charlotte.

“Poverty is really all around us,” said Matt Bowling, a Providence Day freshman who lives in south Charlotte. “It’s your neighbor. It’s the person at Harris Teeter. It’s the receptionist at the doctor’s office. It could be anyone. It’s really enhanced my perspective, and the poverty simulation really opened my eyes.”

The 15-year-old spoke on Nov. 1 while taking a break from organizing toys and cleaning shelving and containers in a playroom at Charlotte Family Housing, a shelter-to-housing program for homeless families near Plaza-Midwood. He joined 23 other students who spent their “free” day from school in a poverty simulation and panel discussion, and then the remainder of the day volunteering throughout Charlotte.

Other students helped at the Humane Society of Charlotte, Urban Ministry Center or Legal Services of Southern Piedmont. Others worked at the Crisis Assistance Ministry’s free store or joined the Council for Children’s Rights to attend a mock trial presided by Judge McCoy Mitchell to understand what challenges a minor might face.

Freshmen at the school usually take an annual school trip to cultivate new learning.

But this year, the class trip was changed to a three-day program working in Charlotte for “Be The Change.”

According to Lee Tappy, dean of Providence Day School’s freshman class, the intent of the program, which will continue for students in February and in April, is not to “fix” the poverty problem in Charlotte, but to educate participants about the community’s needs, various ways in which they can become involved and to mold good community citizens.

“I wanted to try to focus on our mission of a sense of social responsibility and felt it was important to give the kids a choice in what they wanted to be a part of,” said Tappy. “SHARE Charlotte came across my desk. It was the perfect match for us as far as the amazing connections across the community and it gave us a great way to get our students out there.”

Kelly Brooks, founder of SHARE Charlotte and a Providence Day mom, has organized the project and says the next two full-day programs will focus on the logistics of poverty such as public transportation, housing and food, while the third day will again have students in service at other organizations.

“We want them to grow up as community citizens, enhancing that personal sense of social responsibility as neighbors,” said Brooks, 44, a Foxcroft resident. “It’s a pilot program that we hope will be templated and taken to other schools. We’re letting this evolve and see where this is going.”

“These freshman are the future leaders, donors and participants of the community with nonprofits. That’s what gets me jazzed.”

Brooks, whose background is in consumer marketing, founded SHARE Charlotte in late 2012. The new organization provides a way for local residents to identify which nonprofits or causes that may be the best match for them and then encourages them to become involved. More than 200 nonprofits serving Mecklenburg County have currently partnered with SHARE to find volunteers, donors and board members.

“I’m trying to make it a lot easier for people to get involved and serve as sort of a reference,” she said. “Charlotte is a huge giving community but it’s also very invitational when it comes to nonprofits.”

Tappy said response to “Be the Change” has been positive – from students to parents to local organizations.

“Buy-in from the kids has been critical,” he said. “When going off on a trip of any kind – when they go off campus – they are pretty excited. I think we’re giving them an idea of how much they really have to learn. They don’t think about the city as growing with people who have needs. This is a real issue and needs real attention.”

Nailah Nolley, a resident of the University area, worked with her classmates at Charlotte Family Housing to create paper angel cutouts for the organization’s holiday Angel Tree program, where parents in-need can purchase donated toys at a reduced price.

“I feel more enriched volunteering and I like helping people,” she said. “I think with this program students are becoming more aware about our community. Many of us are privileged and we really don’t know life from a poor person’s point of view. This is eye-opening.”

Kathleen E. Conroy is a freelancer. Have a story idea for Kathleen? Email her at suprwriter@gmail.com.
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