Our major fundraising initiative, The Big Cheese Reads, kicked off last month. We threw a celebratory breakfast generously hosted by Fidelity Investments and our keynote speaker, Sheila Cavanaugh. Sheila is a senior vice president at Fidelity Investments. She was able to participate as a Big Cheese Reader for the first time last year at the James P. Timilty Middle School in Roxbury. “It was like breathing new oxygen,” she said when describing the experience. Our guests of honor at the kickoff breakfast were seven eighth grade students from the John Eliot K-8 School in the North End. They shared their perspective on having “Big Cheeses” in the classroom with the audience. We were able to speak with them after they had some time to reflect on the morning.
Xabdiel S. said, “Students need to know that there are rewards to having a good education. It is a good future.”
Joshua C. agreed by stating “Education is the only way to be someone.” He enjoyed his time at the event and was appreciative of his audience. “They made me feel important.”
Maliha K. said, “It’s important for business and community leaders to visit schools because they will know how schools are doing and meet the new generation.”
Rachel G. added that she got to learn about different careers that she might be interested in pursuing.
Marcus Y.has learned a lot from the speakers that have visited the Eliot, but the message that stands out to him is that, “nothing is impossible if you try.” He noted that, “the speakers that came to the Eliot worked very hard to get where they are.”
As eighth graders, these students are the “Big Cheeses” of their school. We asked them what advice they would give to younger middle school students.
Samantha O. said, “Never be afraid to make and achieve high goals and trust in yourself.”
Alexis S. said, “Always do your homework, stay in school and always follow your dreams.”
A few days after the kickoff, we had our first Big Cheese Reading of the year at The Harbor Pilot School in Dorchester. We welcomed a special group of Big Cheese Readers who are also members of the Nexus Alliance, a group of professional African American men dedicated to connecting the needs of the community with resources and opportunities through their collective efforts. One of the members, Toby Grooms is a Practice Manager at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center specializing in helping adults with sleep disorders and second year Big Cheese Reader. We asked Toby to talk a little about his experience.
Why do you think it’s important for “Big Cheeses” to visit the classroom? You are showing the students that someone is invested in them. It’s especially important for students to see people who look like them. When you visit schools with a minority population, you’re showing them that some of us who have gone to those schools and live in the area- that there is more than they see. There is hope. You’re helping them think about the next steps in life. They need to broaden their horizons from the neighborhoods. Don’t be afraid to step outside the box.
What did you take away from being in the classroom? I was amazed by the ever changing environment of the schools. They have so much happening within each school- they are continually evaluating and making improvements to what they do. I was a little nervous at first to read, but I left happy- I felt I made a connection with the class.
This was your second year as a reader, did you do anything differently? The class I spoke with last year was a tough crowd. They had experienced a lot of tough situations and we talked about difficult topics like gang violence. This class was a little bit more laid back. They asked a lot of questions about the work that I do and how I got there. I always try to answer questions in a way that they can relate to.
The Big Cheese Reads is geared toward middle school students. Why is it important to speak with this age group? It’s particularly important to talk to males at this age. It seems that they really need a strong male role model that can speak to them about their experience and share their similar background. They often need another person expressing the importance reading & education.
What is the one message that you hope students will take away from you visit? It’s important to network. It’s important to have a mentor. Twenty years ago I didn’t understand these concepts, but the people that I became close to, I still rely on today. I’m the youngest of four so I had my siblings and their friends looking out for me. We’re still in touch and we look out for each other. You have to surround yourself with good people.
Why do you volunteer? It’s important to give back to this community; I’m a lifelong Boston resident. I had people pushing me along and I’m just trying to give that back. I believe that it takes a village to raise a child and I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by people who want to see me succeed. As the months continue to pass, we are organizing our upcoming Big Cheese Readings within Boston’s public middle school classrooms, hoping to have a meaningful effect on students.
As you can see through the Eliot students’ statements, as well as Toby’s, giving back to the community is a growing experience for both parties. It is an opportunity to influence a student’s path.
To see more event photos, visit our Facebook page.