Kicking off an academic year dedicated to the concept of Big Citizenship, on Monday, Aug. 27, Charles Best, founder and CEO of the non-profit organization DonorsChoose.org, joined the Colleges as this year’s Convocation speaker. Best opened the 2012-2013 academic year at 5 p.m. in the Vandervort Room of Scandling Campus Center.
A former public school social studies teacher for the Wings Academy in the Bronx, Best founded DonorsChoose.org in 2000 after a lunchtime discussion in the teacher’s lounge. “My colleagues and I were talking about what we wanted our students to read, fieldtrips we wanted to take them on, art supplies we needed, but these ideas wouldn’t go beyond the teacher’s lunch room. Then I just figured that there were people from all walks of life who wanted to help improve our public schools,” said Best.
DonorsChoose is a non-profit organization that provides an outlet for people to donate directly to specific projects in public schools with the hope that every public school and community will gain the tools to help their children receive the education they deserve. These initiatives are started by the teachers themselves and benefit students in impoverished public schools across the country.
“As one of the leading social entrepreneurs and creative thinkers in the country, Charles Best exemplifies the kind of leadership that we want our students to emulate,” said President Mark D. Gearan. “He took an idea and has transformed it into a nationwide movement that asks each and every one of us to consider what we can do to be of service in our schools. This year, we are similarly challenging our students and our entire community: ask what you can do to improve and enhance our community on campus, in Geneva and around the world. This is especially important as we accelerate our efforts in relation to Geneva 2020, an initiative to assist the Geneva City School District.”
Praised by first lady Michelle Obama, Bill Gates and Stephen Colbert, the unique peer-to-peer philanthropic effort allows donors to know exactly where their money is going – and donate to projects that inspire them. The company was named to Time Magazine’s 50 Best Websites list in 2007, BusinessWeek’s Best of the Web list in 2005, and received Amazon.com’s Nonprofit Innovation Award in 2005. It was also the first charity to be named one of Fast Company’s 50 Most Innovative Companies in the World.
Anyone can help fund initiatives to purchase everything from dictionaries to science kits, art supplies to field trips. With each donation – no matter how large or small – projects facilitated by DonorsChoose allow students to attain the resources they need to be successful and flourish.
When a project is funded in full, the organization then delivers the supplies to the school directly. Following the successful completion of a project, donors often receive photos of the activity they donated to taking place and hand-written thank you notes from grateful students.
As of 2011, 170,000 teachers at 40 percent of the country’s public schools have posted classroom projects requests and have received funding for more than 200,000 projects – which equates to more than 4.8 million children impacted by DonorsChoose. In 2012, the organization hopes to reach 1 million-plus donors with more than $100 million given to classrooms across the country, extending to 100 percent of the nation’s high-need schools; already, they are more than a third of the way to their ambitious goal.
Best graduated from Yale University before going on to teach at Wings Academy in the Bronx, where he was a social studies teacher for five years before making DonorsChoose a full-time commitment as CEO.
Hobart and William Smith Colleges have partnered with the Geneva City School District on a new initiative called Geneva 2020 which seeks to harness the resources of the Colleges and the Geneva community to provide assistance in four key areas identified by GCSD as being critical to the future of Geneva’s children: graduation rate, career and college preparedness, literacy and communications.