EDUCATION, A PRIVILEGE TO BE PRIZED

Daddy

Daddy, Norvelle Guytan Simmons - This scholarship is for him.

My company announced today the awarding of the fifth annual RuthiPostowStaffing Scholarship. This year it goes to The National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. I’m proud of our scholarship. Education is special to me. There was a time when education was a privilege, and in that time people prized it. For homeless children that is still true. It is not assured and they prize it.

My Daddy was 12 years old when he finished the sixth grade and his last year of school.

He was the oldest of four children of Willie and Mandy Simmons, my Grandmama and Papa. They lived near Brewton, Alabama where Papa worked with logging crews. If you’ve ever driven through the region, maybe you noticed it’s all pine, the legacy of my Papa’s crews that cut down the hundreds of years old hardwood trees and loaded them onto trucks that took them to the ships in Apalachicola.

Then as now, a hard life created people with limited horizons. My family was lucky enough to be literate, but once you could read and write and do figures, you had what you needed. You could read the Bible, write letters to kinfolks, and make sure you weren’t cheated at the feed store.

Papa and Grandmama were schooled according to the textbook of the day, the Blue-backed Speller. Asked how far he got in school, Papa would tell you, “I got through horseback, but Mandy got to Constantinople!”

Grandma and Papa

Grandma and Papa

When Daddy was 12, Papa said he had all the education he needed and told him it was time he went to work and helped put food on the table. Daddy lived to be 90. He raised three children all of whom he was proud to have graduate from college. He bought a second hand set of Compton’s Encyclopedias that he read cover to cover. He practiced grammar, “the mark of an educated man.” He never forgave Papa for stopping his schooling.

Five years ago, just after my company’s fifth birthday, Jenni O’Toole my business partner and I sat back to appreciate how far we had come since those early, often scary, days when we were new and struggling. Then we made one of our best decisions ever. We decided to earmark money for a scholarship. Great years or not so great, we would help young people get an education.

As women business owners, our first idea was a scholarship to support young women who were looking to use their education to launch careers in business. We approached a number of colleges and were told to, “just make a donation.” It’s amazing how hard it is to give money away if you care where it’s going.

Finally we forged a successful partnership with the University of Richmond and worked with them for two years. But we realized the young women we supported were going to get their education with or without us. We went in search of people who needed us.

The third year we chose Second Chance Employment for Women, which worked to educate and train women who were the victims of spousal abuse so they could afford to escape their abusers. That was a cause I could believe in. I could imagine myself tearing the face off of any man who hit me. When I asked my favorite minister what she would do if a husband tried to beat her, she said, “I’d be the finest minister in the prison system.”

In 2010, the scholarship went to a young woman who had been the victim of human trafficking, sold into prostitution by her grandmother when she was 12.

This year one of my clients told me about an organization that helps homeless children get educated. Homeless children? I tried to imagine the life of a homeless child. Where does she sleep? What does she eat. How does she stay clean and healthy? What hope does she have? The pictures I imagined were heartbreaking and I’m certain the reality is worse.

As I thought about it, I saw a circle closing — connecting my 12 year old Daddy who craved an education but had no hope of getting one to children who not only have no hope of an education but have no promise of the ability to keep a roof over their heads.

I talked with a representative of NAEHCY who told me some of their success stories, children finishing high school, college, getting advanced degrees. The people at NAEHCY give these children hope. They look at homeless children and see future educators, doctors, and lawyers. Most important they see children who will have the power to ensure they need never be homeless again.

For Daddy, whatever the question, education was the answer. Education was a privilege he didn’t have. This year’s scholarship is for him.  http://www.naehcy.org/