Class Acts

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IT'S AN EARLY TUESDAY AFTERNOON, and it’s quiet at the Kingswood Community Center in the impoverished northeast neighborhood of Wilmington, Del. A small, staticky radio is tuned to an R&B station that plays Stevie Wonder’s Overjoyed, while the day’s five remaining senior citizens sit in worn-out chairs with idleness in their eyes.

“OK, everyone! Time for bingo.” Beatty, 25, emerges from her office and musters up some enthusiasm with the announcement.

She is in her first year as service-learning program coordinator for Communities in Schools, an organization that connects students and schools with community resources. In this role she wears many hats, and one of them involves mentoring nearby Howard High School of Technology students who have not been assigned afternoon work co-ops during the semester. They spend several hours a week here at the center, completing various acts of community service. Today Beatty has three of them, and their service is to play bingo with the senior citizens.

Back in her office she asks one of her most defiant students, Juan, whether he would like to hand out prizes or call out numbers. He doesn’t respond. “Juan, what you need to do is show me that you’re listening to what I’m saying to you.”

“I’m listening,” he says, not looking up.

“OK. Do you want to call numbers or
hand out prizes?”

“I don’t wanna do neither.”

“Well, pretend you have to choose between one or the other, because you do.” Beatty walks behind her desk to fetch the prize bag she’s prepared. “And cheer up. Life is good. Life is beautiful.”

Eventually Juan says he’ll hand out the prizes. He stands and walks out into the community center’s main gathering hub.

“It’s gotten easier to stay positive and not let their negativity affect what I’m doing,” she says. “I want them to have a positive experience here. But I can’t make someone else be happy. It’s up to them.”

Beatty, a native of Newark, Del., studied sociology and cultural anthropology at Susquehanna before spending two years in the Peace Corps. Upon her return, she enrolled in Public Allies, a national community leadership program that places people between the ages of 18 and 30 in leadership positions at nonprofits across the country. Last year they placed her at Shue-Medill Middle School as the 4-H After School Program Manager. This year they brought her to Kingswood.

In addition to working with Howard High School seniors, Beatty also runs a community service program for suspended students at the nearby East Side Charter School, a K–8 institution with a significant suspension problem. Participating students come to the center during their suspensions, and it’s Beatty’s job to engage them in community service projects while connecting them to the resources they need to turn their lives around.

Beatty also was just awarded a $2,500 grant to launch a community produce garden that will be planted on the acreage behind the community center and tended to by local schoolchildren. She hopes this project will help improve Kingswood’s severely damaged reputation. “People are afraid to come to Kingswood,” she says. “I see this [garden] as a way to get people to have a stake in this community center again.”

As for her students, Beatty says her greatest struggle is in motivating them to care about their own success. “A lot of your time is spent trying to motivate other people to want to do things. If you have someone who wants to do something, motivating him to do it well is a lot easier than trying to motivate someone to want to do this thing.”

And this, she says, has its frustrations.

“Yeah, sometimes I go home and think, ‘Why am I doing this work? I should do something that is more immediately fulfilling.’ But almost every time I feel that way, something else will happen, something small, that makes me feel rewarded. That’s what keeps me going.”

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