She was too choked up to talk. I couldn’t see her face because I was sitting behind her on the stage. I really wasn’t sure if she would stand at the podium in silence, fighting to catch her breath or ramble for ten minutes. Either way it wouldn’t matter. She had the undivided attention of everyone. It was not for the promise of an inspiring message, nor the VIP status bestowed on her at the event. Neither the highest-ranking public official nor the gifted keynote speaker would come close to garnering the focus of the students in the audience as she would. She commanded the grateful reverence of those in attendance because of the genuine relationships she had built with them over the years, and you could see it on their faces.
Wanda Kirby had served these disadvantaged high school students through the Palm Beach County School District’s Johnson Scholars/Take Stock in Children Program, and many of them had reached this graduation milestone because of her work. Tonight, she was retiring.
Foundation work can sometimes feel removed from the people we serve. The stewardship of our organization through committee service, letters of inquiry, applications and reports does not directly connect us to the individuals we serve … but the Wandas do.
It’s a common denominator we find in many of our grantee partners – individuals whose personal investment is almost immeasurable, except in terms of graduations, college acceptances, job offers, and personal growth of the young people they’ve assisted.
I think of Dr. Leslie Pendleton, who leads University of Florida’s first-generation student success program. She knew that first-generation students needed guidance not for their academics but for life outside the classroom.
Paul J. Adams III, executive chairman and founder of Providence St. Mel School, says “It’s not rocket science” about the success of the 42-year-old school on Chicago’s west side. Maybe not rocket science, but an undying commitment to high expectations, accountability, strong curriculum and good instruction.
J. Curtis Warner, Jr., was the founder and architect of the Berklee College of Music City Music Program. The program brings inner-city middle and high school students from Boston to Berklee for a collegiate experience and mentoring. The program is now being replicated around the country.
Our partnerships with grantees link us to the people we serve. Our work is most effective and fulfilling when we view it through the lens of that service to people.
The work of Wanda Kirby, Leslie Pendleton, Paul J. Adams III, J. Curtis Warner, Jr. and so many others reflects JSF’s mandate of serving disadvantaged people at its best. In the JSF family, we have all had the experience of seeing first-hand the fruit of that service.