Dr. Alana Balthazar is a fiercely protective mother of 400 children. They are each unique and special to her. To a one, she believes in their potential for greatness. They are the apples of her eye.
She is not the children’s real mother, of course, but as principal of P.B. Young Sr. Elementary, a pre-K-5 school in Norfolk, she might as well be. And, as any mother would be, Dr. Balthazar is not one to set her children up for disappointment.
That is why, on this beautiful Saturday morning, as she watches “her children” run around the school playground gleefully sipping on free sno-cones, munching on popcorn, hula-hooping, or playing kickball, Dr. Balthazar wants to make sure that the individuals who have set up this event at her school realize how meaningful it is to the children.
“I hope this is the beginning of building relationships with the kids,” Balthazar says. “It’s very important that the attention our school is receiving today is not a one-shot deal.”
Dr. Alana Balthazar, Principal (right)
The type of attention P.B. Young Sr. Elementary school, hidden in the lower-income neighborhood of Young Terrace in downtown Norfolk, just a few minutes from plush corporate offices with million dollar views overlooking the Elizabeth River, fine dining restaurants, and breathtaking lofts, is an event organized by the United Way of South Hampton Roads (UWSHR) called Day of Action.
Held on June 23, Day of Action is a brand new initiative for the local United Way which according to the event press materials “showcases a new highly structured, integrated initiative that takes a collective approach to community issues.”
Suzanne Higgs, UWSHR Marketing, Media, and Special Events manager, says Day of Action was conceived in response to the organization’s leaders’ desire to take on a more hands-on approach to solving problems.
“This is the first year for Day of Action,” Higgs told Hampton Roads Social. “The many meetings and conversations between our leadership, community leaders, and funders focused on a one neighborhood at a time approach where we could bring our resources together and work towards making a tangible difference with measurable outcomes. As a result, P.B. Young Sr. Elementary and the Young Terrace neighborhood was identified for our first Day of Action project.”
To that end the agency brought together members of its Leadership Society, including the African American Leadership Society (AALS), the Women’s Leadership Council (WLC), and the Young Leaders Society (YLS), along with corporate volunteers from Checkered Flag Motor Company, GEICO, and others to launch Day of Action.
The day’s activities include a “face-lift” of the gymnasium by AALS members, packing of summer education supply bags for students by WLC members and GEICO Associates, a mentoring fair co-hosted by YLS members and the Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast, and a library reorganization project steered by Checkered Flag.
African American Leadership Society
Women’s Leadership Council and Girl Scouts of the Colonial Coast volunteers pack summer education bags
But it’s not just about tidying and sprucing up.
“This is the beginning of an exciting new direction for the United Way of South Hampton Roads,” Carol McCormack, CEO of UWSHR explained as excited children (and parents) buzzed back and forth between the playground and the school halls where volunteers were at the ready with summer education goodie bags, logo’d trinkets, and other activities for the curious attendees.
Carol McCormack, CEO, UWSHR delighted with the children as she cools off with a cone (also pictured Lewis Webb, III)
“From an education perspective, we realize that although [the UWSHR] has done a lot of great good for decades, there are still many kids not doing well and falling through the cracks,” McCormack said. “Our new strategic plan focuses on bringing all of our assets together, identifying specific schools and specific neighborhoods, and working towards making a measurable difference in the lives of the children.”
In the case of P.B. Young Sr. Elementary, the plan is to transform the school into a center of teaching, learning and achievement.
“Our short term measurable goals include ensuring that the children are able to read by the third grade, that they build the skills and confidence for success in math, and that there are measurable improvements on [standardized tests]. Our long term goal is for every child from P.B. Young to eventually earn a high school diploma,” McCormack said.
An overwhelming number of the mostly young single mothers whose children attend P.B. Young lack a high school diploma.
“Because we have no marketing dollars to promote everything we do in the community, including projects like [Day of Action], there are some who may not be fully aware of how we are making a difference,” McCormack said. “Going forward, we are going to provide more statistics showing the real impact of our involvement. With the help of media, we hope more people will become aware of our efforts beyond the workplace fundraising campaigns that many are familiar with.”
Volunteers from Bank of America
And P.B. Young Sr. Elementary might be the perfect prototype.
“We have so much potential,” Dr. Balthazar wanted us to know. “We’re committed. The parents are committed. But we need adults who can help open up the world for these children.”
Parents and students line up for free sno-cones and popcorn
Ready for their close up!
In addition to establishing literacy programs, and math clubs, Balthazar’s highly achievable wish list includes attracting mentors for the children, and giving the children the opportunity to see what’s beyond their neighborhood.
“Many of the children have never left the neighborhood because the school can’t afford field trips,” says Balthazar who has been the principal for 5 years. “They are so eager to discover new things, but we have limited resources when it comes to things like field trips. So we try to create good experiences right here in our neighborhood.”
P.B. Young students enjoy shade from the sun
As for the prospect of setting Dr. Balthazar’s children up for disappointment… if the folks at Checkered Flag have anything to do with it, that won’t happen.
“We’re in it for the long haul,” said Robert Chen, General Manager for Checkered Flag Honda. “We have adopted P.B. Young. This is our baby.”
In fact, Chen, a product of the Norfolk Public School System and a middle school classmate of Dr. Balthazar’s, plans to return with his team in the next school year to award kids who have met and exceeded certain goals.
“We want them to know that we will be there every step of the way, and to show them that there are rewards for working hard.”
In addition to the 17 employees who made up Team Checkered Flag at Day of Action, Chen enlisted the help of his wife and three kids to help with the restoration of the school library.
Robert Chen hugs his son (middle ) with family in background and Checkered Flag volunteers
“My children are here today so that they can see how rewarding it is to give back,” said Chen, whose employer recently received the prestigious UWSHR Spirit of South Hampton Roads award.
Volunteering is your opportunity to contribute your time and talents to create lasting, positive change in our community. United Way of South Hampton Roads is an organization that is fueled by volunteer support. Click here for VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES.
Click here to find out more about the UWSHR next event – Day of Caring!
Check out this video of how much everyone enjoyed the day!
Click HERE to see MORE PHOTOS from Day of Action!