I spent days perusing more websites in search of the right match for my philanthropic endeavors or, as I prefer to look at it, an opportunity to pay it forward. I have to admit that while I am enjoying the thrill of finally publishing my first novel, I had a great sense of accomplishment each day I taught in the dropout prevention program that moved me to write Shades of Gray. Through the magic of Facebook, I have been reunited with many of my old students and delight in their success stories. My head was full of ideas and websites.
Then Sherice called asking if she could find Shades of Gray on Amazon. Sherice is one of my students from twenty-plus years ago; one of the many that inspired me to write Shades. “I don’t really read much, but I want to read this one. I gotta do it while my son is on break from school and I don’t have to spend every night doing homework with him,” she told me. My emotions stirred as she spoke. Firstly, the fact that she was going to read anything made me happy. I encouraged reading in any way I could when teaching. And then I thought about the fact that she spent her evenings doing homework with her son. Sherice grew up in group homes and never had a parent to supervise her work. “I think you will enjoy it, Sherice,” I explained. “It will remind you of the good times we had in the real ACE Program, but remember this book is fiction.” Sherice assured me that it didn’t matter what she read, because anything that could bring her back to that great time in her life had to be good. I chuckled at the irony as this was a time in her life when she was labeled at-risk. “You was an amazing teacher and that program saved my life,” Sherice told me. I knew then where my first donation had to go.
I hung up the phone and thought about Sherice and many of the others. A few years ago I met up with about ten of my old students in New York. We all hugged like long lost family and reminisced about the fun times we had. They all looked beautiful – well dressed, clean cut and were brimming with stories of jobs and parenthood and everyday successes. Of course, we hung our heads when we remembered the few that didn’t make it – the one that died of aids in prison, or the one that was shot in a hold up, or the one that no one could find, but was suspected of being a prostitute to support her drug problem, but I spent that evening toasting the successes and I knew then that my work teaching and mentoring these kids, now near forty years old – cough, cough – was worth every minute and every dollar our grant paid for. And each and every one of them agrees.
A portion of my book sales will be donated to Take Stock in Children a non-profit organization which provides scholarships, mentors and hope to Florida’s most deserving children. They offer everything I believe works – extensive support, motivation and accountability. They target at-risk children of diverse backgrounds and work hard to ensure that they graduate from high school and often go on to college or the workforce. I read on their website, “You can change a life by helping a child build a solid foundation of values, establish goals, improve their academic and life skills, while developing their self-esteem and confidence,” and I was once again transported back to the real ACE kids, who are now amazing adults. This is for them. http://www.takestockbrowardfl.org