Adri Smith Inspires Others To 'Reach' For The StarsSunday, March 13, 2011 By Cait Duggan `12 and Cristen Corry `13
When most of us think of the stereotypical “role model,” we tend to think of inspirational speakers, artists, athletes, or intellectuals who have achieved international fame and glory. But we often overlook many of the lesser known, but equally heroic, members of our own immediate community, who, through their dedication and enthusiasm, help and inspire others to make the world a better place. One of these humble heroes in the Visitation community is Adri Smith `11, who, in addition to being a dedicated student, devotes her free time to active service on the local and international levels. Smith is the founder of YouReach, a tutoring and mentoring program for Hispanic children in Washington, D.C. She is also the co-founder of Visitation’s Hearts for Haiti Club with Grace Lilly `11, which they created last year to benefit Crudem Hospital. The club was thrust into greater prominence and importance after the January 2010 earthquake struck. Through her dedication and passion for helping others, Smith has proven that even young people, through passion and dedication, can make a difference in the lives of others. How did you get the idea to start YouReach? I have always been involved with community service, though as much as I enjoyed participating in service activities within and outside of school, I knew that I wanted to create something of my own. I learned a lot about how non-profits are managed and run through my internships at Teach for America and the W. O’Neil Foundation the summer before junior year (2008), which helped give me the background information necessary to start YouReach. Ultimately, I combined my Hispanic heritage (half of my family is from Argentina), my love of reading and writing (English has always been my favorite subject) and my interest in education and working with children to create the idea for YouReach. What were some of the challenges you faced starting YouReach? How did you overcome them? Probably my greatest challenge (and one that I’m still working with) was overcoming the doubt and uncertainty I had in accomplishing my goal despite my age. I knew what I wanted to do, but sometimes I struggled to believe in myself and wondered if others, especially adults, would doubt my ability too. Though I did face some initial resistance, I found that in time people were very supportive and encouraging of my efforts. A huge milestone was when YouReach visited the Supreme Court and met with Justice Sonia Sotomayor last November. One of the children asked the Justice what her greatest challenge was in becoming a judge, and to my surprise she said it was not having enough confidence in herself. Each opportunity that she had to rise to the next level, she doubted herself. She stressed the importance of self-confidence and told us that the first step is often the hardest. Hearing this from one of the most powerful and accomplished Latina women let alone people in the country, reassured me and motivated me to keep working and not let these negative feelings deter YouReach’s success. What are your upcoming plans for Hearts for Haiti? We have several exciting events planned for the next couple of months for Hearts for Haiti. We recently held our second annual Cake Walk during Gold/White Week. Right now we are working on transitioning the club to new leaders for next year and the near future so that the club can continue to raise money for the people of Haiti and the Crudem Hospital. Although we’ve already passed the first anniversary of the devastating earthquake, there is much, much more work to be done, and I believe the Visitation community has a lot to contribute to this cause. How can Visi students get involved with YouReach and Hearts for Haiti? I would love to see more Visitation girls participate in community service activities and clubs around school, especially if that includes YouReach or Hearts for Haiti! Because YouReach works in the Hispanic community, girls who are either in the Spanish Honors Society or are proficient in Spanish (juniors and seniors) are welcome to volunteer as a tutor for the YouReach tutoring sessions. These tutoring sessions meet roughly twice a month, and the girls would be helping the children (they range from 7-12 years old or 2nd-8th grades) with their homework, as well as English, writing, and math exercises. As for Hearts for Haiti, we are currently looking for club leaders for next year, but underclassmen and the other club members are a vital part of our fundraisers and other activities, and so we are always open to welcoming new members. What kind of reactions do you get from the people you serve? The parents of YouReach have been very supportive and grateful for the opportunity for their children to learn, practice their reading and writing, and meet local Latino role models within a safe and fun environment. The kids have also enjoyed getting to know each other and the tutors, and have benefited from the ability to express themselves in their writing and conversations, which they didn’t have the opportunity to do before. I can visibly see signs of their academic improvement, but more importantly, indications that they are gaining confidence in themselves. What motivates you to do service work? I truly love helping others, and feel that I fulfill this most completely with service work such as with YouReach and Hearts for Haiti. On a more day-to-day basis, the most rewarding experiences I’ve had with YouReach have come when I help the kids understand or love a certain concept; those “aha!” moments teachers are always talking about. In this aspect of the program, I have come to appreciate the incredible amount of work it takes to be a teacher, and I now realize just how lucky we are at Visitation to have so many amazing teachers who care so much about their students. How do you motivate people to perform service and how do you keep them motivated? I think it’s important to motivate others by sharing the same goal with them and working from the same level. This encourages participation and an increased interest and confidence in accomplishing the goal, whether it’s teaching one of the YouReach kids to read on their own, or selling bracelets and T-shirts for Hearts for Haiti at the Esprit de Noel. Both you and Liz McCartney `90 are dedicated to serving those in need. Has McCartney’s work inspired or motivated you and if so, how? I have always admired Liz McCartney’s dedication to serving the hurricane victims in New Orleans and her willingness to make many personal sacrifices in order to improve the lives of so many people. I’ve definitely been inspired by her work to serving others, especially since she is a Visitation graduate herself! Are there any kinds of injustices in the D.C. area that you’d like to see Visi students strive to improve? There are many injustices that I think Visitation can take on locally. I’m particularly interested in education, and D.C. has one of the worst public school systems in the country, so this seems like the perfect place to try and improve this major problem. But there are numerous other issues that girls can become involved in, such as poverty, homelessness, the environment, foster care, women’s rights, breast cancer, and many more. My one take away piece of advice that I want to give Visitation girls is not to be discouraged because of your age or other setbacks, and if you want to start your own project, be it in service or elsewhere, do what you do best. Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses. For more information about YouReach, please visit the websites: http://youreach.weebly.com or www.youreach.org.