As a teenager, Emily Kerr watched and learned from her older sister, Brittany, an elementary school teacher. Brittany’s passion for her young students inspired Emily to pursue a teaching degree herself.
Yet behind the dedication to students, Emily witnessed the stress on her sister that came with managing the demands of teaching at a Title 1 school, a federal designation for schools with a high concentration of low-income students.
“Year after year, I saw her passion dwindle,” says Emily, 25, a graduate of College of Charleston. “She loved the children, but left teaching altogether after four years. That broke my heart.”
That reality gave Emily a new inspiration: Develop Charleston Hope, an organization she created as a high-school student to provide holiday gifts to students, into one that goes far beyond gifts to provide resources and support to two Title 1 elementary schools in Charleston, SC.
Today, supported by a staff of five and a host of volunteers, Charleston Hope’s services range from providing supplies and training opportunities to teachers to an after-school program that creates a safe space for girls.
“The impact of poverty doesn’t just take a toll on our children, but on our teachers, too,” says Emily, executive director of Charleston Hope. “We want to create a school environment that not only helps students to thrive, but helps teachers thrive, too.”
Charleston Hope offers opportunities to adopt a classroom and mentor young students. Its “Step In!” program, an after-school program for girls launched at Charleston’s Mitchell Elementary three years ago, has become a place to give young girls a voice to express themselves, says Emily.
“Girls in the program are comfortable enough, safe enough, to share information with us that helps us provide even more of the resources they need,” she says.
Partnering with the YWCA of Greater Charleston, Charleston Hope is also piloting racial equity training for 35 teachers this year through the Racial Equity Institute, and in the future plans to expand this to more teachers and programs.
“It inspires me to support teachers so they can focus on what they are passionate about — the students themselves,” says Emily.
Cingo means to surround and secure — to protect. That’s what we do. And we have a lot of respect for those who take it upon themselves to make protection a part of what they do, too. That’s why we’ve launched Circle & Shield, our award to a member of the community who helps make the world a better place, a safer place.