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Letters to Jeff Bezos

June 20, 2017

Last week, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos shared a tweet soliciting ideas for his new philanthropic strategy. The online response was remarkable. Rather than putting our thoughts in 140 characters, we reached out to CIS alumni and site coordinators to share why they think Mr. Bezos should go All in for Kids and partner with Communities In Schools.

From Naedean Herrera, site coordinator, CIS of The Heart of Texas and alumna, CIS of San Antonio

Dear Mr. Bezos:

Requesting ideas via Twitter for a philanthropic idea is bound to get you a million tweets asking for your investment in just about every non-profit, charity, and foundation in the country, maybe even the world. My guess as to why you haven’t found one true calling to an organization or cause? You are, after all, the creator of “the everything store”. Why pick just one thing, one cause, one philanthropic venture? You care about a wide range of things. How can you limit yourself to just one thing? I thought the same. Granted, I wasn’t investing capitol. I was investing my life. In what though, that was the question. When I started taking my first social work classes in college, I had an overwhelming feeling that I had to do it all. I had to help the elderly, the children, the homeless, LGBT youth, immigrants…the list went on for miles. How could I help everyone? I was just one person.

Luckily, I found a place to work that lets me do just that. The everything organization: Communities In Schools (CIS). The mission of CIS is to surround students with a community of support empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life. In placing helping professionals called site coordinators in schools with students who are at the highest risk of dropping out, we give them someone who cares. That is how we impact everything. We care about students, we invest in them, and in return, they graduate and go on to care about others and on and on it goes.

Communities In Schools implements a system of Integrated Student Supports, meaning we bring resources to the students that they need to be successful in and out of school. This may mean providing basic needs to kids and their families, like food and clothing; academic support, like tutoring and college field trips; attendance and behavior coaching and everything in between.

Your tweet requesting ideas said you wanted something different that did not just focus on long term impact. You want to help people here and now. Communities In Schools is the best of both worlds. We have 40 years of sustainable growth under our belts. Beginning in New York in the 1970s, Bill Milliken worked with youth on the street, building relationships and slowly transforming lives. Now we’re the nation’s largest dropout prevention program, serving 25 states and Washington, D.C.  There are 14.5 million kids living in poverty, and we’re currently working with 1.5 million of them to help them succeed. So there’s much more work to be done.

We also work in the here and now. You can walk onto any CIS campus and see dollars becoming real help right now. We give kids uniforms when they don’t have them, we have weekend feeding programs for food-insecure families, and we provide crisis intervention when kids need to be kept safe from abuse or neglect.

Being as financially successful as you are, I’m sure you’re also wondering about our numbers. How much we spend, where our money comes from, does this CIS thing really work, and how effective is it? Well, I don’t have all the answers, but our website sure does. At communitiesinschools.org you’ll be able to read our national impact reports and check out infographics. More importantly than that, you’ll find stories. Stories from our students and alumni who were helped by this program and went on to do amazing things. You’ll also find stories from site coordinators highlighting the amazing work they do every day. Among those stories, you’ll find mine. I have the unique double CIS story as both a site coordinator and an alumna of CIS. CIS impacted my life so much, that I have chosen to spend my life giving back by working for this organization.

I hope that in your ever expanding search for the perfect philanthropic adventure, you remember me and CIS and the work we’re doing in the here and now to impact the long term. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me personally or a staff member at our national office. Thank you. And I hope we’re everything you’ve been looking for and more.

Naedean Herrera
Site Coordinator, CIS of The Heart of Texas
Alumna, Class of 2010, CIS of San Antonio

From Brittany Tigner, alumna, CIS of Atlanta

Dear Mr. Bezos:

You tweeted you were looking for philanthropic ideas that will allow you to help people in the here and now. Have you heard about the impact Communities In Schools is making in the lives of students? Communities In Schools is a national nonprofit organization that brings community resources inside of schools to surround at-risk students with a community of support and help them stay in school. I was once an at-risk youth and looking back, I realize I was fortunate to have an organization like CIS within my school. Continue reading to learn how I became involved with CIS and how CIS is impacting the lives of students within 2,300 schools, across 25 states and the District of Columbia, in the “here and now”.

I have always feared becoming a product of my environment and growing up in Atlanta, I noticed how my community was filled with poverty, drugs, prostitution and violence. During my childhood, my surroundings limited my ability to see myself moving beyond my situation. The thought of having a better life and going to college seemed impossible. But I believe it was this same fear that pushed me to achieve things I at one point never thought possible.

As a child, I saw how the misuse of drugs and alcohol can have a lasting effect on the lives of individuals and their families. Like many children where I grew up, I was raised in a home where at least one or both parents abused alcohol and drugs excessively both inside and outside of the home. This unfortunately caused my siblings and me to experience things children should never have to go through and as a result, I went into a deep depression.  A deep depression that caused me to lose my smile and made me feel like life was no longer worth living. My state of depression drew attention to me, and it drew the attention of one woman named Ms. Hardy.

Ms. Hardy was a site coordinator for CIS at my school. Ms. Hardy took an interest in helping me personally and academically. She gave me any resources I needed and assisted me in achieving academic success. From this experience, I recognized how important it is to interact with people in a way that expresses empathy, compassion and a sincere interest in their welfare. Most importantly, I realized how someone who barely knew me wanted to help me and show me that I was deserving and worthy of being helped. Although going to college was never discussed in my household nor was it a requirement, when it came to Ms. Hardy and my future, pursuing college was my only option.

When I reflect on the role Ms. Hardy assumed in my life, I recognize how effective intervention in a child’s life can promote positive adolescent and adult outcomes. Because of CIS staff like Ms. Hardy helping me, I completed high school and graduated in the top 10 percent of my class. I have also obtained a bachelor’s and master’s degree, both within the field of social work. I am the first person in my family to attend and complete college, and I am hoping to have paved a way for my younger siblings and hopefully others like myself who have had challenging experiences and are working to rise above them. I am currently working in my field as a foster care supervisor for the Division of Family and Children Services, and I love helping to make a difference in the lives of others.  

For me, being involved with CIS meant always having a support system filled with individuals whose primary goal was to empower students to stay in school, excel academically and to continue their education beyond high school. Thanks to CIS, I can proudly say I am a first generation college graduate. If there is any organization that is deserving of philanthropic interest, I would nominate CIS. I am a product of this organization’s sincere interest in helping young people thrive, no matter the circumstance.

Sincerely,
Brittany Tigner
CIS Alumna

From Dominic Cummings, alumnus, CIS of Jacksonville

Dear Mr. Bezos:

My name is Dominic Cummings, and I would like to thank you for your desire to see others thrive. Communities In Schools is the organization you are looking for. CIS has 40 years of helping students succeed by helping them stay in school and achieve in life. CIS works directly with students in 2,300 schools and in 25 states plus Washington, D.C. Here is my story.

I was raised in a single-parent home with seven other siblings. I grew up in a low-income area and household in Jacksonville, FL, where making the honor roll and going to college was not the norm. My mom did everything she could to ensure my education was top priority. So when I came home expressing to my mother that I was having difficulty in my math class, my mom made a plea for help to the teacher, guidance counselor and principal. 

I was then introduced to Communities In Schools of Jacksonville. At that time, CIS was a program open for all students to receive time to work on their homework with a teacher, get involved in a recreational activity and even receive a meal before leaving for home.

CIS set up a meeting with my algebra teacher who stayed afterschool twice a week to ensure I got the extra help I needed. He later opened up our session for other students who needed help. CIS was deeply involved in my middle school. They not only helped me after school but during the day as well. Some of the CIS liaisons would check in on me and several other students throughout the day, sometimes even spending lunchtime with us. CIS is and was a safe haven for all students. CIS gave me that extra boost of confidence I needed to get through some of my courses and deal with middle school issues like bullying.

Currently, I volunteer with CIS by mentoring, attending board meetings and meeting with local business owners to encourage them to sponsor and get involved with CIS. I am a walking billboard as an advocate – I post on social media sites and drive volunteers to get involved in the great work that CIS is doing in our community. I am the first person to have received a bachelor's degree in my family, and I want to share with my community how they can do the same.

A moment when I took great pride in myself was the day I graduated from college and received my bachelor’s degree in business administration. FFrom freshman year to graduation, CIS was there the whole time. While I was learning how to balance work and school, navigating the financial aid process, failing and dropping classes, finding summer jobs and even working on various school projects, CIS made calls on my behalf and even assigned me a mentor who I could talk to along the way. My mentor Curt Lightbody has been there since my freshman year of high school, and without CIS, I would not have met him. We are still in contact today 10 years after my high school graduation. The help CIS provided during and after high school has helped to mold me into the person I am today. Today, I work for J.P. Morgan Chase, and I am married with three children.

This is my story and there are so many others just like me who could use your help by giving CIS the opportunity to reach more students in more schools, more cities and more states. CIS can help the most number of students with the greatest impact, in the shortest period of time.  I hope you will consider Communities In Schools as one of your philanthropic endeavors.

Thank you in advance,
Dominic Cummings
Alumnus, CIS of Jacksonville

To learn more about Communities In Schools model and impact visit https://www.communitiesinschools.org/our-model/.