Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

His Quest Crosses the Suburb-City Divide

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

His Quest Crosses the Suburb-City Divide

Article excerpt

Michael Nolan was 14 when a church program gave him his first startling glimpse of inequity.

A local priest arranged for Michael and nine other teens from a comfortable New Jersey suburb to meet occasionally with 10 teens from nearby Newark. The program's simple aim was for the students to talk to one another, to exchange views.

Michael - at that time a student at an exclusive prep school - was dumbstruck by what he heard.

"The people who surrounded me were mostly concerned about their golf scores," Mr. Nolan recalls, "while people in Newark were worried about not having enough to eat."

It was a realization that changed the shape of Nolan's life.

A few years later, as a college student, he formed a nonprofit group to offer summer school, summer day camp, and year-round after- school programs in Newark.

Today, alongside demanding work as a corporate attorney, Nolan continues to head up Kids Corporation. The organization now provides low-cost after-school academic programs at five Newark sites, and also operates a 125-acre camp in western New Jersey that serves as a recreation and learning center for children from Newark.

In addition, Kids Corporation offers supplies, field trips, enrichment activities, and specialized instruction to about 30 community- and faith-based groups that host summer school programs for 2,500 Newark children.

Ideals imparted in college

As a 14-year-old, however, at the moment he was first made aware of the needs in his neighboring city, Nolan was an unlikely candidate for this kind of work.

By his own account, he was an indifferent student who drifted on to college at St. Vincent, a small school run by Benedictine monks in Latrobe, Pa. It was there, he says, that he became inspired by the Benedictine ideals of community service.

At the end of his sophomore year of college, the same priest who had originally put him in touch with the Newark teens invited him to help run a small day camp for Newark schoolchildren in a local park, in addition to teaching summer school in the city. By this point, Nolan was ready to make the most of the opportunity.

The idea was to give the city kids a little bit of summer fun, in addition to some academics, and - perhaps most important - a haven in the midst of a tough urban environment during the months when there was no school.

But for Nolan, the experience served to deepen both his discomfort and his commitment. "I saw that for these kids, the chances of entering into American society as I knew it were very limited," he says.

Spurred to do more, Nolan eventually took over and expanded the summer program, soliciting private funding, recruiting fellow college students as low-budget workers, and acquiring a piece of land to be used as a day camp.

This turned into Kids Corporation, a project he dedicated himself to even as he made his way through law school, began practice as an attorney, married, and fathered three children. …

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