It was while teaching history at the Wings Academy in the Bronx, that DonorsChoose.org founder and Chief Executive Officer Charles Best realized not all schools in America are created equal.
“Where I went to high school we went on field trips, we had graphing calculators for trigonometry, we had the supplies to do just about any art project; we did not want for anything,” recalled Best. “But in the Bronx, my colleagues and I would spend a lot of our own money on copy paper and pencils, and I thought, ‘There must be people who would love to help us – if they could see where their money was going.'”
On Monday, Aug. 27, during the annual Convocation Ceremony, Best recalled that initial spark that led him to create the non-profit organization DonorsChoose.org in 2000. Through the donations of 800,000 people across the country, DonorsChoose.org has provided more than $100 million in books, supplies, field trips and technology to teachers and their students at over half of the public schools in America.
Initially investing his own money to create a rudimentary site, Best asked his fellow teachers at Wings Academy to go to the fledgling DonorsChoose.org and ask for funding for a dream project. A health teacher needed “Baby-Think-It-Over” dolls for a pregnancy prevention course, an English teacher needed SAT prep books -eventually hundreds of projects from across the Bronx had been posted.
With the help of Best’s students, who worked after school on a letter writing campaign, more than $30,000 in project funding was raised. More than a decade later, DonorsChoose.org has “delivered books, art supplies, field trips and technology to more than five million kids from low income families,” Best said. “I never thought I would be sharing numbers like that.”
In closing his Convocation address, Best invited those in attendance to make a difference in the lives of students; each attendee was given a $10 gift card to DonorChoose.org. “I am putting the ball in your court,” explained Best. “Find a project that really speaks to you, and think of those students beginning their school year, as you begin your adventure here. Know that you made those students’ first day of school just a little bit brighter.”
In recognition of Best’s dedication to public education and bettering the world of millions of children across the country, Best was given the prestigious President’s Medal on behalf of Gearan and the Hobart and William Smith Board of Trustees.
As a response to Best’s impressive work and thoughtful words, Gearan issued to students one charge for the academic year: “Ask what you can do.” A simple, yet immense call to action that ushers in a year dedicated to citizenship and community.
“As we engage one another as a community, thoughtfully consider the broader challenges and opportunities that face American higher education today,” Gearan urged, touching upon issues of sustainability, community engagement and inclusiveness. “With focus and determination, with the hard work of students, faculty, staff and our Board of Trustees working together, we can advance the College in notable ways.”
Board Chair Maureen Collins Zupan ’72, P’09 welcomed students, faculty and staff on behalf of the Board of Trustees. “You have before you two semesters to explore new concepts and cultures, to learn about the world and about yourself, to push your limits and expand your horizons,” remarked Zupan.
Student Trustee Kees Nordin ’13 reflected on community service, and making an impact on the world, while Student Trustee Loren Marshall ’13 reminded students that they are not visitors in Geneva – it is their home and they are a part of the city.
Provost and Dean of Faculty Titilayo Ufomata addressed the HWS community during her first Convocation, speaking to the duties of the faculty and the obligations to educate students as well as colleagues and themselves.
“To me, being good citizens of our community demands that we develop good instincts,” Ufomata said. “It demands that we recognize unintended consequences of our actions, that we think about others when advocating for ourselves and our units; and that we behave and feel beyond our own circumstances for the good of others.”
Other speakers included Professor of Philosophy Scott Brophy ’78, P’12, who served as the Faculty Marshall, and Associate Professor of Art and Architecture Michael Tinkler.