Community//

Houston After Harvey: How You Can Help School Children

A different approach to supporting schools

“Let me know how I can contribute best, Adeeb. I want to help rebuild the shattered schools in Houston.” And I spoke at length on what was bothering me – to get schools up and running for the Houston Students after Harvey.

Adeeb listened to me patiently on the phone and then said something that blindsided me,

“Karthik, schools will be re-built, food will be served, uniforms will happen, iPads will materialize – for all these visible things there are many takers.” And he paused.

I have come to respect his opinion – especially his ability to frame the right problems. Best way to describe him – he could be a youngster from your home or mine – well educated, earnest, logical and endowed with a good heart.

He has one difference that few can match– he spent time with students as a physics teacher in one of the most historically underserved schools in Houston. At Kashmere High School, a school in the North East Houston, he experienced first hand the world of children that only a few of us can fathom.

In one of my earlier conversations with him, he opened my eyes to human nature-“when people are asked to vote on building highways and sewers, more active voting happens for highways. The highly visible one.”

So I said, “Looks like I only see the highway needs. Talk to me about what is the real invisible need for school children that I am not feeling?”

He chuckled. We have known each other for almost a year now. I knew what was coming up next would likely open up new vistas that I have never considered before.

His words – “Your daughters (and many other kids like them) have a wonderful social safety net.

Many such nets blend into daily life, you may not think twice. To name a few – great family support and thoughtful parent teachers associations at schools.

Contrast this with students in the underserved schools. The non-academic barriers went up quite a few notches after Hurricane Harvey.

When paycheck to paycheck was the norm for their parents before the storm, now the same parents have less time than before. Friends of these children are in a similar boat. Existing counselors are overwhelmed. The rock solid teachers – on paper they may be teaching 25 students like any other teacher. In such challenging environments, they are managing equivalent to 100 children.

The invisible need is to have extra, dedicated counselors, especially with trauma expertise. And the time for this help is now.

I am happy that the world pours money for children’s betterment. Super majority of it goes towards materials that take care of the body. Wish there was more focus on the sustained care of the mind.”

I started to absorb the import of his words. I was connecting my own dots. One night after the hurricane, I woke up at 4 AM startled. The dream that startled me – my childhood home was tilted and a sheath of water was cascading down the floors.

I am blessed with good fortune. Yet, I felt vulnerable. The storm experience rattled me subconsciously.

I was happy I spoke with Adeeb. At the start of the call, I wanted to do something that was good on paper. His roving eye grasped something that is great in reality – fulfilling invisible and yet powerful needs of the school children.

I wish I had known Adeeb when he was a schoolteacher. I came to know him after he started the non-profit ProUnitas.

I have met many sparkling individuals in the non-profit sector – the soul of a social cause draws them. In ProUnitas case – to eliminate non-academic barriers for school children.

What drew me to ProUnitas was something unique. Two words in one sentence – Soul and Scale.

If soul is social impact, scale can move mountains. I found scale in the approach. Prounitas is not a service provider but a coordinator of services.

Uber and Lyft grease the link between drivers and passengers better than taxis. ProUnitas greases the link between schools and social service agencies better than past experience.

If a good education is a springboard out of poverty, a handy Angies list to create the right ecosystem is a godsend to principals and teachers. Looks like foundations seem to share my assessment. They have poured 2.1 million dollars through the years to build the ProUnitas platform.

None of the above would have made it to a blog but for what Adeeb [and Albert, Director of Partnerships ] shared during an extended conversation last Friday – after work.

They wanted help to raise money for trauma counseling support for kids in the most needy Houston schools to mitigate the lingering mental effects of Harvey. And Prounitas would subsidize 100% of the operations so that the whole dollar reaches the kids.

That got me thinking.

It is one thing to donate money for a specific cause. It is a whole different ball game to effectively reach the intended audience. There is a world of difference between intent and execution.

Many world-renowned non-profits with best intentions have to spend 7 cents on a dollar to make impact. I found the specificity of the cause with full guarantee of impact [with data centric transparency to the donors] very appealing.

All of us want to help. Most of us do not know how. I was on the same boat, swimming in the same bubble – until now.

So, three asks from my end.

  1. Help: If you are anywhere in the world – you want to contribute to school children, please consider the donor link [US tax deductible]. Your early contributions would go towards quick and timely care to the students in Houston.
  2. Share: If you know of others who would share the passion for children, please share it with them.
  3. Advice: If you know of major individual contributors that I should reach out to – please advise me.

Counting on your help, share and advise.

Yours Truly,

Karthik Rajan.

P.S. During these conversations, Adeeb had asked me if I could associate with ProUnitas  as an Advisory Board Member. I have agreed. Wanted to let you know that it is more than words – it is a personal commitment.

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