C.H.O.I.C.E. is Making a Difference for North Texas Students At Risk

This post comes to us from Jessica Koss, founder and CEO at Foundation for C.H.O.I.C.E. I asked her to write a piece that describes the opportunity that her startup is addressing, and to provide a clear and actionable means by which you – the greater startup community – can help. See the last paragraph. Disclosure: this is NOT (not) a paid or sponsored post. I’m asked quite frequently how founders and the tech community can help give back – this is one clear way. Your time.

Foundation for C.H.O.I.C.E. (Consider How One Individual Changes Everything) is a non-profit organization founded in 2014 by Jessica Koss and Blake Bartnick. C.H.O.I.C.E. provides mentoring and scholarship programs to at-risk North Texas high school students. C.H.O.I.C.E. pairs together mentors and business partners with hand selected students to guide them toward college over the course of a 27-week program which includes college prep, relationship building, research a business project, and a create-your-own business project.

At-risk students face adult challenges on the way to college. C.H.O.I.C.E. student, Kim*, was forced to leave a dysfunctional home at the end of her junior year. She lived with different friends and their families and paid rent to contribute.

“I spend most of my day on the DART transportation system and the rest at work or school,” she said. “No home, no family, AP (Advanced Placement) classes, and a job made me feel like nothing could be harder.”

However, what C.H.O.I.C.E. students lack in resources, they make up for in motivation, resilience and initiative. Kim organized a school club, maintains her grades and with the help of her mentor and found steady employment. In the fall of 2016, she will begin studying Human Resources at the University of Texas in Arlington. Now, she leads by example for future C.H.O.I.C.E. students.

Mike Mazur, director of Plano Children’s Theatre, volunteered as a C.H.O.I.C.E. business partner. C.H.O.I.C.E. impressed Mike because he felt the organization’s values partner with Plano Children’s Theatre. “Students must demonstrate responsibility, teamwork, and respect with responsibility being number one. We teach life skills through the medium of theatre … and at C.H.O.I.C.E., students have to do the work. We provide a guide but there’s no hand holding.”

He was paired with Keavon, a junior from Plano Senior High, for his “research a business” project. Upon meeting him, he was inspired by Keavon’s initiative and maturity. “College is about self-discovery and the fact that door is shut for a lot of people bothers me,” Mike said.

Diane Metcalf-Leggette became a C.H.O.I.C.E. mentor to Kaitlyn, a senior at North Dallas High School. Diane’s influence provided Kaitlyn with the resources to receive acceptance to Southern Methodist University and multiple scholarships that cover more than 100% of her college tuition.

Diane mentors to better connect with the North Dallas community, including high-poverty schools. Students need to know that, “mentors don’t have it all figured out,” Diane said.

“We have strengths and weaknesses too, and have to work together with the student to overcome challenges,” she continued. “I learned a lot about myself through mentoring. I had to work to earn my student’s trust. She is not used to having someone there just for her.”

Of the 20 students accepted into the C.H.O.I.C.E. mentoring this year, nine graduated and 100% have been accepted to one or more four-year universities. Plus, over $100,000 worth of scholarships have been awarded to these students who will begin college in the fall. The mentoring program has grown to start accepting 50-60 students throughout North Texas next year.

With the growth of the program in the Dallas school district for the 2016-2017 school year, Foundation For C.H.O.I.C.E. is looking to partner with many more business partners. A business partner is a company that gets to work with a mentor and student team to engage in a meaningful Business Research project. This short commitment of once a week for 4 weeks, provides the opportunity for a career shadow at the end of the 9 weeks and 3 phone calls during the day with the student and mentor.

  • Michael Sitarzewski is the Publisher of Launch DFW, co-founder and CEO of Epic Playground, Inc., makers of inboundgeo. He is a veteran entrepreneur (and a TechStars Cloud alum) with a specific focus on Web-based software and services. Sitarzewski has been a part of the internet startup culture since 1994 and has had two exits along the way. After a seven years in the Boulder, Colorado startup community, Michael returned to Dallas, Texas, in 2013 where he’s focused on growing and increasing the visibility of the burgeoning Dallas startup community. He is the EIR at The DEC, a mentor in the RevTech accelerator, and leads several events in the Dallas area. Sitarzewski considers helping people understand and leverage technology his life's work.

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