Our founder and CEO Don Wilson once shared, “I am most interested in projects that have a long term impact on improving the community in which we live. Nothing comes closer to accomplishing that than education.”
With that mission in mind, DRW worked with the Noble Network of Charter Schools to support a high school in the Homan Square neighborhood of Chicago – just six miles west of DRW’s Chicago headquarters. DRW College Prep opened its doors for the first group of students in 2012.
While the school is financially self-sustaining, the connection provides an opportunity for our employees to volunteer directly with the students – from starting a robotics program to mentoring students to playing kickball together after a day of standardized testing. DRW employees love to share their passions with the incredible students at DRW College Prep.
In part one of our series, My life at DRW, you’ll hear directly from Gretchen, an employee who volunteers with the DRW College Prep Big Brothers Big Sisters mentorship program. For the past three years, Gretchen and a group of DRW employees scheduled weekly activities to open up students to more experiences and opportunities in Chicago.
I started working with the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization almost as soon as I started working at DRW. It was just after DRW College Prep was founded, and I really felt like I had the right skills to offer value to the program. I graduated from high school and college, so why don’t I offer support to someone who is getting ready to experience that same process?
It has been especially rewarding to share my passion for theater and the performing arts with the students. I was able to organize a trip to the Goodman Theater – which the students (and mentors I must admit) really enjoyed. The whole group toured the facility and learned a ton about what goes into a professional production. We also worked with Big Brothers Big Sisters to support my Little Sister when she starred in the school play. It has been incredible to revive a lifelong interest of mine and to share it with the next generation.
As with many volunteer experiences, the biggest impact was an unexpected one. I’ve seen her self-confidence grow and now she really feels that her voice has value. She has developed confidence in her ability to make a decision on her own, which is so important for someone in this stage of her life.
My Little Sister will be making a big decision in the next few weeks: where to go to college. As the first member of her family to go to college, with multiple offers on the table, this is unchartered territory. That’s where the incredible support from the counselors at DRW College Prep and from Big Brothers Big Sisters comes in. The purpose of the school and this program is to offer students more opportunities and experiences – and we’ve done it.
Volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters has brought countless benefits to my life at home and at work. It has helped me understand much more deeply what so many children growing up in Chicago are going through – and how important it is to join in and make a difference. I went into the program expecting to give my Little Sister an outside perspective, but in reality I was the one who was opened to a completely new experience.
In the next edition of My Life at DRW, find out what inspired one DRW employee to start a robotics program at DRW College Prep.