"I'm a ghetto boy who's done good," Alan K. Chambers will tell you straight away.
Mr. Chambers, the executive director of Communities in Schools of Washington, D.C. (CISDC), spends most of his time helping others follow in his footsteps. His efforts are carried out primarily at CISDC, which helps strengthen relationships between local people and public schools.
"Poverty is not a lack of money, it's a lack of options," Mr. Chambers said. "There are plenty of guys making $1,000 a day selling drugs, but they think they have no options, so they are still in poverty."
Based on his personal success and his spectrum of experiences, Mr. Chambers said, "I can help you design a lifestyle that works for you no matter what your starting point."
But he has learned through CISDC that it requires a host of community resources working within schools to give disadvantaged children a healthy start.
"No school can run on budget alone. It takes budget and community support," said Mr. Chambers.
Visibly disturbed, Mr. Chambers related the story of an elementary student who came to school in wet clothing. She had enough money to wash her garments, but not enough to dry them. Of course, the teacher had to stop teaching to attend to the crisis. These are everyday occurrences that can prevent real learning from taking place.
"Our job is to provide resources to attend to things like that, so when a teacher's day starts, she can start teaching," he said.
Communities In Schools is a nonprofit network of 135 chapters nationwide serving an estimated 500,000 students and their families each year. Its mission is "to champion the connection of needed community resources with schools to help young people successfully learn, stay in school and prepare for life."
In the District, CISDC manages the DC Reads child-literacy program in conjunction with the Corporation for National Service (AmeriCorps) at 16 elementary schools, including Harris, Terrell and Garrison. At Macfarland Middle School in the Petworth neighborhood of Northwest, CISDC launched the nation's first School of Promise. It is operated in collaboration with America's Promise, founded by retired Gen. Colin Powell.
In July, saxophone virtuoso Kenny G introduced The Kenny G Miracles Foundation and donated $250,000 to support school-music programs at Macfarland.
CIS organizers believe that every child needs and deserves a personal, one-to-one relationship with a caring adult, a safe place to learn and grow, a marketable skill to use upon graduation, and a chance to give back to peers and community. The key concept is that "kids need neighbors in their lives," Mr. Chambers explained.
"Classroom academics are only a small part of what makes kids succeed. They just need access and a chance just like anybody else," he said. "We think in terms of gaps and what the community can do to close it."
An example of how CISDC establishes community partnerships is the Foster Grandparents program. Not only does it assist first-grade teachers in the DC Reads project, but some cook in the Kiddie Cafe and Family Resource Centers using staples provided by a food bank. …