A Brief History Of Sprouting Leaders From Raul Rosas, President
Sprouting Leaders has come a long way since the inception, and like every great organization, a great leader with the right vision is the essential building block. Raul Rosas shares his story below:
In late summer of 2012, Osvaldo De Santiago, the assistant principal at Corkery at the time, reached out to his youth softball league (Omega Delta Baseball) for some help. He desperately needed male role models to come into the school and help resolve some re-occurring issues. A member of the league and of Omega Delta Fraternity relayed the message to the UIC student chapter. I was there at the meeting when they announced the “cry for help” from Osvaldo. The announcement was vague and followed by “I don’t have time to look into this so I’m just announcing it to everyone; if anyone has some time to dedicate let me know so I can give you Osvaldo’s number” I was the Philanthropy Chair at the time and youth have always been a soft spot for me.
On a side note, my top choice of profession growing up was astronaut and pediatrician; obviously a Certified Public Accountant is the next best thing.
Back to topic, I thought to myself: “an elementary school that “needed some male role models”? okay“- I was curious to find out what was going on. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
In the fall of 2012 I got ahold of Osvaldo and decided to stop by Corkery to meet him. The first meeting started off with the usual small talk and getting to know each other. As the conversation went on, I could hear some dispute between a student and a faculty member outside of the office. I curiously turn my head and Osvaldo recognizes the commotion and assures me that everything is ok – that it was just such and such with his usual dilemma and detention issues. As we begin to wrap up our meeting he asked if I could stay a bit longer just after they dismiss the students; and I do. As we are dismissing the students I serve as a chaperone to help the kids move on and out of the school to their way home. I am not the tallest person in the room and some of these kids were as tall as I. They immediately recognized that I was not a part of the school and that is when it began; the teasing, the jokes, the profanity, some pushing and yelling – an overall chaos.
As I returned back to Osvaldo’s office, I realized how “old” and “muggy” the entire office looked. It was a faded white; a color you knew was bright and clean once upon a time, but is now a lingering yellow haze. It felt claustrophobic and carried a presence I can only describe as “a room of dispute”. I thought to myself, “The yellow was not a good color for the first room people enter when visiting”.
We continued our meeting and Osvaldo begins to go into more detail about the issues the school is facing with some of the students. He begins with a roster of students who are headed down the wrong path – their family members in gangs but labeled “good students”, or at least having the potential to be “good students.” All of a sudden I begin to feel the sort of pain and disappointment he and the principal must have felt. An overwhelming feeling of hopelessness shadows the room and I began wishing I could do more. As more details emerge, Osvaldo explains how some of the kids have issues at home and how all they need is someone to look up to – someone who can help them see beyond their surroundings and offer a different point of view. He began to attach names to the stories and to explain how all they knew is gang, drugs, violence, disrespect, and poverty. Everything started to sink in when the stories all ended with, “He/she is either going to drop out and join a gang, end up in jail, or even worse…dead”; my mind was blown away by how real everything was as I was standing here in the midst of it all.
I returned the next day with a fresh mind to see what could be done to help Corkery.
We sat down with all the best intentions and brainstormed ideas; the conclusion was a mentoring program. With so many programs already out there, we thought, “how could we make ours work better?” The best approach would ideally make a lasting impression, so we came up with the idea to mentor based on the school semesters. It was evident that the kids needed a strong relationship; something that lasted longer than a day, or even a week. Trust is built over time and we wanted to establish it and eventually become their role models and leaders. This is where Sprouting Leaders was born.
The beginning was rough as we tried to iron out a plan and actually test it. We knew much work was to come and that this program will be an ever evolving project for the greater good. Issue number one was the involvement of the kids. We decided to work around the schools’ Intervention Acceleration program that blocked out specific time and assigned students to work on subjects they severely struggled with.
Then came the issue of the school’s image, the surrounding block, and the lack of funds to help improve the aesthetics of the school. We wanted the school to be a place that the kids were not dreading going every morning, but it looked so horrible, how could one not? Our second idea, the School Improvement Days, were born next. One Saturday of the month, students alongside the mentors, collaborate to help improve the school’s image by either painting, moving things around or cleaning up the surrounding block. That is when I knew the first thing we needed to do was paint that dreaded, yellow front office.
Lastly we thought about the issue of having volunteer mentors. It was evident we wanted role models – and what better role models than college role models? Peers who can share the experience and who are not too far removed. Each mentor would visit the school on a weekly basis to practice being a mentor while the child gets acclimated and comfortable. The student-mentor relationship was born.
Corkery is situated in a low income community and we knew that any help we could provide would have a lasting impact. With that in mind, we began to brainstorm some goodwill events for the kids such as coat drives, school supply drives, and secret Santa toy drives. The coat drive and school supply drive came to fruition out of need from the general population of the students.
In the Fall of 2012 we started by having our monthly service events as well as a coat drive in November. Our first task was to paint the front office a more welcoming color. It was a great turnout of volunteers and students.
Our first weekly mentors started the program in the Spring of 2013. By then we had received a generous sponsorship from Zipcar to help lower the commute cost for our mentors. All the mentors were organized in carpools depending on their availability and volunteering time. With a Lead Mentor being the authorized driver ensuring his/her carpool was on time and accounted for.
It took a few weeks but we started to notice some positive interactions with the students. Our focus in Corkery was reinforced after some of the children asked: “why do you come to this school” and continue with “if it were me, I wouldn’t come to this school…it sucks.”
Story time, I remember being in one of the literature classrooms after the teacher had announced an assignment. I was walking around helping some students and noticed one of the kids was not doing his work and was simply sitting there with his hands crossed. I approached him and asked him if he had finished; he replied with a quick “no, I’m not going to do this.” I then replied with “you should probably do your assignment” and offered to help – he quickly snapped back with “no, you’re not my father.” Fast forward two years to his 8th grade graduation trip and he was one of the most involved kids in our program with the warmest smile.
Our organization is growing and will continue to improve as we learn alongside our students. With great Leaders, comes great success.