When I lived in New Your right after college, I was involved in the East Harlem Tutorial Program. I'd take the subway to a walk-up brownstone in East Harlem, where kids would come in the evening to study and have a safe, quiet, happy place to hang out, study, and learn. These kids were very poor and came from broken homes in a dangerous neighborhood, and the fact that somebody in a suit from Wall Street cared enough about them to get up there every single week to help them get through school meant a lot to them. That was my first exposure to volunteering in public education.
When I came back to Houston I was looking for something similar, so I mentored at Communities in Schools in an alternative school in the basement of Foley’s downtown for kids with difficult backgrounds. Soon after that, a person named Wendy Kopp asked me to help her new organization, called Teach for America, by visiting their classrooms in HISD schools and reading to the kids. Not long after that I was introduced to two education entrepreneurs, Mike Feinberg and Chris Barbic, who had recently started programs called KIPP and YES. Both programs later turned into a new type of school called charter schools, and I was on the founding boards of both of those schools. And six years later, in November 2003, I decided to run for election to the HISD Board of Education. I won that election and three others, serving a total of thirteen years, and finally stepping down this January.
For six years, while on the HISD Board, I worked with Kids Hope, a national, non-profit that focuses on finding members of participating churches like SJD to help kids in local schools who need mentoring support. The commitment for the mentor is a once a week mentoring session at the school. The church also provides a prayer partner, who never meets the child but just prays for him.
There are many ways people can serve God and improve our society and the people around them, and change things for the better. Public service is one of them. When I heard about Kids Hope, I felt the same tug as when I heard about Communities In Schools, and when I heard of East Harlem Tutorial. It’s been a thread, I guess you'd say, that I've had all the way through my adult life.
The biggest ministry I've been involved in, and I do think a ministry is the right word for it, was my service on the HISD school board. I got so many things done, but in the short run, it often felt like nothing was getting accomplished. It takes both passion and patience to do anything in education. When you change something, it may be a very long time before you see the outcome. Whether it's Kids Hope, changing a child, or serving on the school board, changing the system, it doesn't happen overnight. In ministry, the opportunities may be far between, but if you’re at it long enough they add up.
It is very important to give to other people, not getting anything in return other than the joy that you're making a difference. Give somehow in your life. Put aside significant time to give, to share, and give it an opportunity to grow as a part of your life. If it really isn't a fit, after you've given it some time, switch to something else. But don't stop giving. It is very important to your soul, and to your health.