Excel Englewood Volunteers – A Night at the Museum: The Lessons of Giving
A few days before Christmas, students of Camelot Education’s Excel Academy of Englewood participated in a major event sponsored by Grammy-award-winning musician and humanitarian, Chance the Rapper, through his non-profit organization, SocialWorks, and its partner, DTLR Villa.
The annual SocialWorks event, called A Night at the Museum, is held at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. It allows guests to explore the museum’s exhibits after hours and serves as a donation hub for the organization’s Warmest Winter Initiative. A Night at the Museum and the Warmest Winter Initiative are meant to bring awareness to homelessness in the city of Chicago and provide individuals and families facing homelessness with necessities and niceties by way of guest donations.
For the students attending from Camelot’s Excel Academy of Englewood, all of whom volunteered, it was an opportunity not just to have an evening exploring the exhibits and features but to be a part of raising social consciousness about homelessness in Chicago. Attendees are asked to bring items, such as warm clothing, gloves, socks, and undergarments, but it can also include items like a new deck of cards or an old MP3 player with charger and headphones. Students helped unload toys and other products from trucks and then staffed tables to hand toys out to children. They also staffed a “warming drop-off station,” where they accepted donations of winter weather gear for a future event where the items will be distributed to homeless individuals.
Director of Programming and Careers at Excel Academy of Englewood, Ricardo Waddy, said that, for mothers facing homelessness, toys and books for their children are desired donations. Students from Excel Academy of Englewood were most enthusiastic regarding the aspect of giving.
“Our students really loved the event, and it was a blessing to see how they took to participating. Some of the students who attended are new to Excel Academy of Englewood, but everyone acted like the ladies and gentlemen we know they are. I gave our students one pep talk about being young adults, and they really showed their dedication and accountability during this event. It was amazing. They were doing things on their own. They exceeded what was expected of them.”
Also unexpectedly, at the end of the event, Excel Academy of Englewood students received a huge surprise, Waddy said.
“As we were leaving, Chance the Rapper saw us and asked, ‘Are these the kids from your school?’ I said yes, and he told us to wait around for a minute. He left and came back and gave each of the students two tickets for the Bulls versus the Pacers game. We never expected that. The kids certainly never expected it. It was one of those spur of the moment things.”
Excel Academy of Englewood student Erica Nevels, age 17, said she participated because she felt the need to give back to the community. “I learned that giving to others feels good. It’s the right thing to do. My favorite part of it was giving out toys to the children.”
According to Waddy, the relationship between Camelot Education, DTLR, and Chance the Rapper’s non-profit, SocialWorks, has been building over the last few years. Through John Ester III – regional marketing representative for DTLR Inc. and also executive director of the B.I.G. Homie Project – the relationship with DTLR grew and connected with Chance the Rapper as well as other artists in the music industry. Through the B.I.G. Homie Project, John Ester III teaches a career readiness class at the Excel Academy of Englewood, introducing students to unconventional careers that they might not have thought about. One of the sessions involved the students in creating their own brand and pitching it. The best pitch got to do an event for DTLR at one of their local stores.
“Over the summer, DTLR also sponsored a shopping spree at one of their stores for our students involved in the One Summer Chicago Youth Employment Program,” Waddy said. ”The rap artist, YBN Cordae, was involved and originally students had a $150.00 limit in buying Puma products. Cordae added another hundred dollars to that. All of these different connections and different organizations are really having an impact on these kids, which is what Camelot is all about.”
Part of Camelot Education’s mission is to help students develop positive, enriching relationships with adults both inside of school and with members of the community. Before A Night at the Museum, that mission was reinforced at a special two-day event designed to inspire and uplift young black women. Camelot Education partnered with DTLR and UGGs shoe company for Young Women’s Empowerment Day. The two-day event aimed to empower young women attending Camelot’s Chicago Excel Academy campuses and was a tremendous success. More than a dozen female role models from different career fields, professions, and organizations participated in the event.
“The Women’s Empowerment Day was very inspiring for the students,” Waddy said.
Camelot’s Chicago campuses are part of the Chicago Public Schools Options Schools network. Waddy said Camelot’s approach to teaching is working with the students to nurture their career dreams and goals. But the students’ social consciousness is also a major part of their development, which was the point of having them participate in the A Night at the Museum event.
“We participated last year with the help of Michael Airhart who collaborates with SocialWorks on the Taste for the Homeless event, which donates the items collected at A Night at the Museum to individuals facing homelessness,” said Waddy. He also stated that Excel Academy students organized their own donation drive for the Taste for the Homeless at the school.
“Mike and I are from the same community, and he suggested I bring some of our kids to last year’s A Night at the Museum event. He said ‘bring as many as you can, all you have to do is show up,’” Waddy said. “Well, we went last year, and our students loved it. This year he wanted us back. When Mike saw us, the greeting was so huge and warm. It just filled the kids with excitement. They weren’t expecting that, but what they saw and learned at the event was how all of these various relationships and organizations are working together to change our community for the better.”
Many of Camelot Education’s schools are in traditionally underserved communities, where business investment, resources, and opportunities are often limited. At Camelot Education’s schools, teachers and staff take charge in building strong community relationships and connections. The students feel safe, welcomed, supported and most importantly, eager to learn.
Excel Academy student Malik Washington, 18, also participated. Washington said that what he learned from participating was to spread the love. He also said that giving toys to the children was his favorite part.
“I participated because I wanted to give a few hours of my life to give to those in need,” Washington said. “I’ve learned that I can always help make a change at any point in my life. I’m thankful I had the chance to be a part of it, and I look forward to doing this next year.”