Letters from Ed: Whitney Williams

I first learned of the work of the Birmingham Education Foundation the way you are now–by following along online. While living in Washington, D.C., I spent a lot of time visiting the website and Facebook page of the Birmingham Education Foundation. I was in awe of the work Victoria Hollis was doing as Educate Local Programs Director at the time. I wondered how a team of only four people was able to put on a professional conference for high school students,who then got to speak to the Rotary Club of Birmingham and on the program alongside Condoleezza Rice.

WAW-students-CDCI got the opportunity to return to Birmingham to join the staff of Ed in 2015, as the development team of one. I went from full-time classroom teaching to working in philanthropy. That may seem like a jump, but most days it’s a dream. I get to use my love of writing to help raise money on behalf of Birmingham’s wonderful students. Last year, I also added communications to my work at Ed, which means it’s part of my job to tell the stories of how great the kids in Birmingham City Schools really are. But the truth is, I’d do that part for free!

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Although I don’t work directly with students as much as I did when I was a full-time teacher or a programs director, I get to see volunteers, donors, and students at their very best. Instead of spending all my time in one classroom, I now get to visit all kinds of places and meet all kinds of people. Our Educate Local programs connect students to real professionals working in the Birmingham area. Though most of our professional volunteers for the career skill-building curriculum wouldn’t call themselves educators, they generously share their real-life, on-the-job experiences with students. Almost every time I sit in on a session, I learn something myself.

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On a typical day, I get to take people who have never before visited a Birmingham City School or met one of our wonderful students on their first visit as part of a grantmaking committee. Or, like Eddie Friend from our Board of Directors, our volunteers sit down for a quick mock interview with a student, and by the end of their time, they’ve find that they’ve become a mentor or an advocate to a student like Mohamed. (Their friendship is my favorite success story of our work.) I also have personally been lucky enough to call some of our students, volunteers, and donors my friends.

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In the fall, I also get to meet a wonderful and impressive group of high school seniors, who for one evening, also become game show contestants! Through Ed Family Game Night, an event now in its fourth year, I get to meet four graduating seniors who join a team of local executives from Birmingham’s companies. The role of the executives is to be on the student’s team, and to help them win the biggest of the big checks, awarded as a scholarship when the students graduate from high school and head to college. I’ve gotten to keep up with a terrific group of students from this program, now 12 of them who are studying at colleges and universities all over the country (and making me & Birmingham proud!!)

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And, more than anything, that’s the best part of my job. I always say that the best part of Birmingham is our people, and the Birmingham Education Foundation connects the kind and generous professionals working in Birmingham to the next generation of students we want to see in their seats in a few years.

After working behind the scenes at Ed, I can tell you that the work that seems to happen magically is thanks in large part to our terrific team of program staff who works really hard to make that magic happen. None of the work would be possible without the volunteers, educators, donors, and amazing students.

As Development and Communications Director, most of my asks are for money, and I wouldn’t be good at my job if I didn’t ask you for something at the end of my letter.  I’d love for you, if you’ve been watching from social media for a while, to get connected to our work in real life. We will find a transformative way to use whatever talents, strengths, ideas, and vision you have to get you connected to a great group of students who would love to learn more about you and your work. You don’t have to join the staff to be on our team.

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