I first learned of CARE as a new law clerk looking for volunteer opportunities. Now that I am raising two young sons, I hope that by volunteering I can show my children what it means to be an active, involved community member. CARE, aimed at credit education and arming others with tools to help them thrive in work and life, provided an opportunity to get involved and give back without promoting an agenda or advocating for a particular side. While volunteering involved speaking in front of high school juniors and seniors, I liked that I did not need any prior experience in the classroom since CARE provides the presentation materials and outlines for classroom activities. I quickly discovered that many of the other volunteers are seasoned professionals eager to share their tips for making the most of the time in the classroom. Volunteering offered an opportunity not only to engage with the students but also with my fellow presenter, often an incredibly smart and entertaining bankruptcy judge.
In 2015, I wanted to get more involved with the program and started coordinating the Atlanta CARE Program. As program co-coordinator, I schedule presentations at high schools throughout the Atlanta metro area, and communicate with attorney volunteers, bankruptcy judges, educators, and school administrators. We have a very small team – I coordinate the program with one other attorney – but we have a very large and active group of volunteers eager to participate.
For me it has been tremendous to work with all of our judge and attorney volunteers. Every year we have new volunteers and they bring a new perspective to the program. They help us make the examples relevant to the students we serve and make each presentation memorable. Through CARE, I have had the opportunity to meet and connect with attorneys and to develop fulfilling new relationships and friendships. I have also been impressed and inspired by how our bench and bar are deeply committed to our community and to helping others achieve the fresh start they seek through CARE, which helps ensure individuals have the tools that they need to make good financial decisions from the start.
I was honored when the Atlanta CARE Chapter was recognized by the national CARE organization as Chapter of the Year in 2017, but I recognize our work is far from done! Throughout the 2019-2020 school year we reached out to additional schools to establish new partnerships. I met with several educators and administrators from local school districts throughout the Atlanta metro area over the course of the year and identified several opportunities to partner and grow CARE in the district.
We started off 2020 with a bang with our first presentations at a new (to us) school, Booker T Washington High School. The school opened in 1924 and was the first public high school for African Americans in the state of Georgia and the Atlanta Public Schools. It is a short drive from the Bankruptcy Court in southwest Atlanta, and the student body is 100% minority. We had two sessions with 100 students (60 in the first, 40 in the second). We repeated the program again a month later and opened it up to parents and other community members to join. I also invited a member of a neighboring school board to observe the program and to see for herself how impactful the presentation can be.
One of my favorite parts of the program is communicating with the teachers we serve and hearing that the CARE presentation can make a very real difference to the students. One teacher reported this year, “One of my seniors just informed me that she is now deciding to go to college because of the information she received” from the presentation. What a fantastic testament about the program!
While the 2019-2020 school year was full of surprises, it was also full of promise for the Atlanta CARE Chapter. I hope to continue to develop our new partnerships and grow the program in the coming year. Here’s to a great 2020-2021 school year!