RiverDogs, area nonprofit give Charleston Hope
Chris Singleton had a good feeling after he submitted Charleston Hope as a possible recipient of one of Minor League Baseball’s five CommUNITY grants. So the Charleston RiverDogs’ director of community outreach texted Emily Kerr, Charleston Hope’s founder and executive director, to pass along that the nonprofit had a strong
"Awesome," Kerr replied. Days later, Singleton’s good feeling proved accurate. He sent another message confirming that $500 soon would help Charleston Hope serve teachers and students at Title I schools in Charleston, South Carolina. Kerr’s reply conveyed about as much enthusiasm as a text can.
“She sent all caps,” Singleton said. “She said ‘YAY’ with like 20 y's at the end and a bunch of exclamation points. She was so excited.”
Since 2011, Charleston Hope has worked to “enhance school culture and climate in high-poverty, Title 1 schools by building on the strengths of students, teachers and leaders,” according to the organization’s mission statement. It values mental health support, teacher empowerment and family engagement. What began as a small Christmas toy drive for 40 kids has evolved into a year-round effort.
With the COVID-19 pandemic altering just about every aspect of life in the United States, schools included, the CommUNITY grant will go a long way toward helping Charleston Hope and those it serves in navigating a new normal.
“Every dollar always matters," Kerr said, “but this is where we're really stretching every penny, every cent so we can give our students and teachers what they need to start the school year coming up.”
Charleston Hope serves five different schools within the Charleston County School District. More than 98 percent of the students at those schools live at or below the federal poverty line, Kerr said. While the plan is constantly evolving based on safety regulations, about 25 percent of students at those schools are set to start the upcoming school year in-person. The other 75 percent will start the year virtually.
It's an added challenge to a community that already faces many.
“When you talk about Title I schools, a lot of these kids are growing up in some broken homes unfortunately,” Singleton said. “Many of them don't have WiFi in their government housing. Maybe their parents have been laid off, so they can't afford the iPad or the tablet or any of that stuff. As awesome as it would be for every student to have an iPad at these schools, the funds just aren't there.”
So Charleston Hope will work to smooth the situation. It has partnered with the school district to get the word out about WiFi buses that go out to where students live. It's in the early stages of opening something along the lines of an internet cafe, where students and parents could go for internet access. The goal would be to have either on-site or virtual tutors. And the organization will offer training sessions and professional development for teachers who have to balance both virtual and traditional instruction.
In school, students, particularly girls, will have access to mental health counseling and one-on-one therapy sessions. Charleston Hope also is assembling and distributing kits that contain everything from hygiene products like body wash and lotion, to school supplies like crayons and pens, to academic material like notebooks and worksheets. As always, one of the greatest aids for teachers is making sure their students have everything they need to be ready to learn.
“We're going to be providing basic needs,” Kerr said. ”Making sure our kids have access to those, whether they're in person or whether they're online, as well as making sure they have the school supplies -- again, whether they're in person or online -- to make sure they can be successful this school year.”
These efforts fit within the goals of MiLB’s CommUNITY initiative, which for years has recognized and highlighted the importance of community and inclusion. The idea has been to bring all 160 Minor League clubs together to create an environment of understanding and acceptance while giving back to the unique communities that MiLB organizations call home. In addition to Charleston Hope, the other winning organizations were Dreams Go On (Altoona Curve), the Young Black Leadership Alliance (Charlotte Knights), El Pasoans Fighting Hunger Food Bank (El Paso Chihuahuas) and the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama (Birmingham Barons).
The relationship between the RiverDogs and Charleston Hope extends back years. Players have joined the nonprofit for field days, and Joseph P. Riley Jr. Park is basically across the street from where most of Charleston Hope’s kids live.
Though Singleton has only been with the RiverDogs for about a year-and-a-half, he grew up just outside of Charleston, attended Charleston Southern University and returned home soon after two years as an outfielder in the Cubs organization. He’s dealt with tragedy and sought to spread a message of love. He’s long been in awe of Charleston Hope’s annual Christmas gift-wrapping drive, which has grown into an operation with nearly 4,000 toys wrapped in a single night. The event is a microcosm of Charleston Hope’s expanding positive influence, which will get a boost this school year thanks to the CommUNITY grant.
“So many kids don't even have the opportunity to think Santa Claus is real,” Singleton said, “but now they can say, ‘I got gifts from somewhere, and it's from Charleston Hope.’”
Joe Bloss is a contributor for MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @jtbloss.