My parents were both addicts and were divorced when I was two when my father was sent to jail for five years for selling drugs. When I was eight, my parents moved back in together. That was when I learned that both of them had AIDS. This was when they began getting drunk and high on heroin on a nightly basis.
Three years later, my mother finally decided to get us out of the abusive relationship and get clean. When we left my father, we left with nothing. Even with regularly eating meals at AIDS support groups, we still didn’t have enough money to make it to end of each month. Times were TOUGH!
Surprisingly enough, this is when I learned the power of giving!
I’ll never forget the time when I was 11 when my mother went to get us McDonald’s for dinner. I couldn’t wait for a Big Mac extra value meal!! It was such a rare treat! When my mother returned with only a single two-cheeseburger meal, I was crushed! When I asked her what happened, she said,
“On my way home, I passed a homeless man on the street. I wasn’t sure if he would have eaten today if I didn’t help him but I know that we’ll be just fine sharing this meal.”
Despite her addiction problem, she was a incredibly caring, loving and giving individual who stayed clean for her remaining time on this earth.
About 18 months later, at the young age of 33, she passed away, but that powerful, powerful lesson never left me! She knew that the ability to give, to help, to make a difference, doesn’t come from financial status or a position of power. It comes from deciding that you will be the difference you want to see in the world.
My childhood experiences have led me to dedicate my life to making a difference in the life of every student that I teach, but my mom's words stuck with me and I kept me thinking of what more I could do to help.
My first year, I taught at a public school in Brooklyn, New York. This was a school just like all the schools I went to as a kid in N.Y.C. -- NO EQUIPMENT and NO FUNDING for physical education! I had to become incredibly creative to build a curriculum. Because of the lack of equipment, most of my lessons fell short. It is very hard to teach 100 students how to play basketball with only two balls.
For the past 13 years, I have been a P.E. teacher at Charles Barrett Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia. Barrett was in a much better equipment situation. I had everything I needed, a school budget and a supportive PTA. Teachers like me have the tools to fulfill the physical needs of their students.
For years, I couldn't stop thinking of my students from Brooklyn and other kids just like them. EVERY STUDENT deserve the same opportunities that my students had. I had to do something.
In the 2014, I came up with the idea of Adopt-a-Gym. I would throw a fun fitness event like a fun run. My students would get sponsorship in order to raise funds to purchase P.E. supplies for schools in need. This would help my students learn the power of making a difference in the lives of kids just like them who don’t have the same opportunities they do.
They have made an enormous difference! This equipment gives students the many educational opportunities that P.E. classes offer:
- learning multiple activities to fill their free time and keep them from negative influences.
- developing a love for physical activity that helps prevent health concerns that stem from inactivity, such as obesity and heart disease.
- increasing skill development can possibly make them good enough to become college or even professional athletes!
- Most of all, creating lifelong healthy learners!
In only four years, we have raised over $19,000 and equipped the physical education programs of 14 schools! I'm very proud to say that we were able to adopt the school I taught at in Brooklyn! Not only them, we’ve helped schools in Washington D.C., Virginia & El Salvador. We’ve also focused a lot of fundraising on schools affected by natural disasters in Louisiana, Texas and Puerto Rico!
We have even donated the remaining funds each year to our local homeless shelter, totaling over $1,100 in donations to date. The best thing is that no money ever exchanges hands since the equipment is purchased directly from the vendor and sent to the recipient schools.
This year has been all about expansion! My goal has been to find like-minded physical educators to run Adopt-a-Gym events of their own. In 2017, I presented at four conferences in three states spreading the word and hoping to inspire other teachers to join our amazing adventure.
My goal as a program is to use 100% of funds donated by students to purchase equipment. However, expanding the program won't be cheap. On my teacher's salary, I won’t be able to afford all of the registration fees and transportation costs to go and present at conferences to recruit new Adopt-a-Gym teachers. I also need funds to maintain a Nonprofit Organization status (a 501c3, which I like to call an “Impact Organization”). Other expenses include developing a quality website, & other operating expenses to advertise and market for other schools get started.
This year we had three fitness events at schools and another six schools donate to help the recovery process of schools impacted by Hurricane Harvey in Houston, TX. With help, I know this program can grow exponentially & one day make inequity in physical education programs a thing of the past!!
I want to thank you all ahead of time for taking the time to read my story & contributing your hard earned money to helping our youth have the opportunity they deserve; to be lifelong healthy learners!!
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