Inside my former dorm, at the University of Pennsylvania, is emblazoned a powerful proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.” As a young freshman college student witnessing this grand tribute to the value of community for the first time, I was more puzzled than awed. College, at times, can be a blur, and taking time to ponder the role of community in defining character can be difficult. It wasn’t until my graduation day, as I made a final return to the dorm, that it struck me just how influential this mantra had been in defining my college experience.
Situated in the heart of West-Philadelphia, my collegiate experience was marked by service as much as it was marked by academia. Throughout my four years I tutored and mentored young elementary and high school students. My Fridays were remembered not for the parties I attended, but for the memorable opportunities I had to volunteer at Lea Elementary School. During my final year of college, I opened an SAT tutoring branch in my hometown of Stamford, CT, and tutored several students for free. Almost unwittingly, the philosophy of community and character reinforcing each other had manifested itself in my college experience.
Although I have long since bid farewell to my dorm and college, the value system I developed has followed me to Boston. In the several years since I moved here, I have realized that community involvement is already a very large part of the typical Bostonian’s mindset. Surprisingly, when I talked about the idea of giving back to those less fortunate, I was met not with disdain or skepticism, but enthusiasm. Eventually, through conversations with my colleagues, neighbors, and friends in Boston, my partners and I were able to develop and execute the idea that belies Reach-Higher.
Compared to other major cities, Boston’s education system is amazing. Students are provided with vast resources to help them succeed, and the departments of education works hard to plan, organize, and implement new ideas to improve results, especially for low income students. Additionally, Boston’s extensive and well-developed network of libraries and community organizations provide many supplemental programs to help those with less access to technological or professional resources. Most importantly, the Boston community extensively supports its educational infrastructure and development.
So how does Reach-Higher fit in? As socially conscious young professionals, we noticed that Boston’s educational resources are startlingly isolated from its business community. Most volunteer opportunities take place during the work day, and the few organizations that seem able to generate enough interest from corporations don’t tap into the vast array of knowledge and expertise that some individuals in business may be able—and willing—to offer. This experience was generalizable to other fields, such as academia or research.
In straightforward terms, the idea behind Reach-Higher is to link individuals in professionals with business or academic capability with those who we feel would most benefit from their expertise. We explicitly aim to ensure that our volunteer opportunities are meaningful, and individualized to each of our volunteers. More importantly, we promise that the programming we offer will be applicable and immensely helpful to our users.
Quite simply, we know that Boston already has lofty, high goals for the development of its communities and educational system. We just want to help our city, and its standards for education, reach a little bit higher.
Neil Assur is the Executive Director and Founder of Reach-Higher. He can be reached via email at Neil.Assur@reach-higher.org