Anna Holland Clark
I wanted to send a quick note to thank WINGS for the life changing experience. This past year, I completed my first year of teaching at a Title 1 school in Beaufort County. I teach a group of kids very similar to the ones I worked with in North Charleston. These kids go through a lot in and out of school, and quite frankly it can be very difficult some days to even get through my lessons. But I was very successful this year, mainly because of my effective behavior management skills. I completely credit WINGS with both my passion and my skill for working with at-risk students. I know that the program changes the lives of the WINGS kids and I have been a witness to that. But WINGS also permanently affects the lives of the WINGS Leaders. Although it was probably the hardest thing I had ever done, it was completely worth the time, effort, tears and laughs. I truly believe that the only reason I was successful in my first year of teaching was because of my experience at WINGS. I know you all are changing lives and I will be forever grateful for those two years at WINGS.
I Was Just Like You
I returned to my former College Park neighborhood of Atlanta with friends and co-workers, hoping to support the next generation of students. We shared a mission to make a difference for the kids in the neighborhood. Our motto? “We’re Clark Kent; we’re going to go in the booth and save people!”
We aimed to fulfill our creed by immersing ourselves in the program’s culture, understanding the key elements of social and emotional learning (SEL)—and putting them into practice. After all, we had to act on what we preached.
SEL sparked my curiosity. How could I make this interactive, fun and enriching for elementary school students? Initially, I struggled, grappling with how to be direct and strong-willed with a group of 2nd grade boys (Eagles) that I mentored. But, at the midpoint of the year, I transitioned to coach a group of kindergarten boys (Robins)—and the relationship clicked. They responded well to compassion, affection and subtle expectation-setting. With the encouragement of WINGS staff, I learned how to reach a balance between compassion and firmness, adapting to what my students needed.
Take Keshawn, one of my Robins that took a significant leadership role among his peers. He had such potential but was swayed by the immature, misbehaved kids around him. He needed mentorship, support and guidance—and I was in the position to provide it, allowing he and others to translate newly acquired social and emotional skills into academic success and behavioral improvements.
I think back to my childhood at College Park; the neighborhood was not as crime-ridden as now but I encountered many of the same negative influences and had a single mother who was over-extended at work. Yes, I greatly benefited from teachers’ support and after school enrichment programs. But I did not receive the compassion or empathy I needed when I went to Harriet Tubman Elementary 15 years ago—and instead, I became belligerent later on in my life. However, WINGS can provide that source of compassion for its kids. They nurture rather than overlook children’s creativity and talents, empowering students to pursue their own aspirations. Students dictate their own outcomes—but have the supports they need to soar.
As a double major in psychology and sociology at Georgia State, I wanted to enter a position of impact—and knew I could do so as a teacher with WINGS. I volunteered in the program for two years and, afterward, practiced what I set out to preach. And, in the process, I became a Clark Kent for the kids of Heritage Elementary.
Then & Now
I’m currently a special education teacher in New York City, supporting students with various barriers to academic achievement. While my job is challenging, I’m able to enter the classroom each day with confidence and skills built in large part from my experiences with WINGS for kids.
I first connected with WINGS through the WINGS for Girls summer camp, which I attended for several years in the 1990s. In addition to the traditional camp experience, we engaged in social and emotional skill-building activities. Alongside other girls, I started to learn about feeling secure in my own skin, unafraid to share my thoughts and perspectives with the world.
When I graduated from college in May 2012, my sister happened to be working for the Charleston Community Foundation. She forwarded me a job description that she thought might be of interest—and it just so happened to be an opportunity to work with WINGS for kids. I took one look and knew I had to apply.
I was lucky enough to be selected for the job, and delighted to find as a program assistant that the energy and positivity I remembered from my camp days still ran through the core of WINGS for kids. After a year of training, I stepped into a program director role for Chicora Elementary.
The challenges were real in this new role. The students came largely from impoverished homes led by single parents and the community we served had been hard hit by drug abuse. At Chicora, many students had severe behavioral problems, parents were not highly involved and enrollment was declining.
The WINGS curriculum was extremely helpful for Chicora’s students, and helped us to redirect negative behavior and empower students to resolve their problems. I saw those changes happening every day. But when I think about my time with WINGS, what stands out most to me is our Community Unity time each day – when students shouted the Creed at the top of their lungs from their nests and contributed to an indescribable wave of positive energy.
And I also think of how WINGS allowed Nkyra, a third grader in our program, to soar. When I first met her, she gossiped, bullied, and did not trust her group leader. The approach? We leveraged a support system that used consistent language, set high expectations and provided Nkyra with the tools to meet them. At the time of her graduation, she gained a reputation for positivity, an inclination to help whenever possible and a passion for acting.
Like Nkyra, every student that graduated from WINGS improved and grew—even in the span of just one year.
As my two-year anniversary at WINGS approached in June 2015, I saw the impact educators had on their children—and realized the opportunities I could have in the classroom. NYC Teaching Fellows came forward with such an opportunity last summer and I had to pursue it. On that last day, I hugged parents and students with tears in my eyes, hoping to remain in touch—and see that the program made a distinct impact on their lives.
To this day, I still receive texts and calls from both parents and students. WINGS has helped me to become the teacher and person I am today.
Former Program Director & Mr. Cody's Supervisor, Lee Hilton
At the beginning of this school year, Mr. Cody (a college-aged mentor that works as a WINGS Leader in our program) had a really tough 6 year-old in his Nest of kids. This particular child barely spoke and spent the majority of his time rolling around on the floor, ignoring instructions and not participating. After months of patience, acceptance, and nurturing, this same child now speaks and greets others with a “hello.” He follows Mr. Cody everywhere and he is the only one who is able to calm his tantrums. The child that would hide under his desk or roll around on the floor crying during Academic Time now sits in his seat and completes his homework. He smiles, laughs, talks, and has fun with others. In under 5 months of intentional social and emotional intervention, this student is now a Behavior Improvement Award winner. Mr. Cody did not only earn the child's trust but he gained the respect of Memminger teachers who are astonished at the transformation.
Still So Proud
I fell in love with WINGS as a volunteer my freshman year of college. Right away I knew it was different: WINGSLeaders connected and bonded with each other and the program focused on other lessons besides academics, though at that time we didn’t know what to call it beyond emotional intelligence. I eventually started working for WINGS and stayed until I graduated college with a degree in elementary education. My whole college career had WINGS woven through it, so much so I am still tied tight to my kids from 15 years ago.
What makes me so proud are the relationships that continued to grow once my group moved on to middle school, high school, and now college. Over the years, we’ve celebrated so many successes together – high school graduation, college admission, and burgeoning careers. We’ve also comforted each other during tough times. A few years ago, one of the girls from my nest was in a bad car accident that left her in a coma. We were all so worried about her and frequently checked in with each other and her mom and brother about her status. She recovered and when she was well enough, our nest – now high schoolers – had a hotel slumber party to show our love and celebrate her progress.
Today, I look at my classes of middle schoolers and at myself as a teacher and I see WINGS. Pieces of who I am are my nest of girls and all that we have been through together. Parts of my teaching and interactions with my students still stem from WINGS teachings and practices.
I’m still so proud.
I Look Up to You, Little One
In my time with WINGS, I have been reminded time and time again the power of the relationships that are formed in the program. Everyday people from different backgrounds come together to enjoy the community that WINGS provides and we find ourselves in love with the powerful moments created that build lasting bonds. The environment of Social and Emotional Learning can be a challenging one. Every person that makes the choice to participate in learning more about themselves and the world around them is bound to be transformed and inspired- and not always in the easiest ways.
When I think about the most powerful relationships that aided me in evolving in my SE skills, I can’t help but think of a WINGS kid I met in my second year as a WINGSLeader. I grew close to a girl who was brave, sharp tongued and immensely witty. You couldn’t get anything past her and she never let you forget it. She was bold and comfortable being herself. I admired her for that and wished I had that capacity for self-love at such a young age.
The child that I grew so close to was faced with lots of challenging life situations that I, even as an almost adult, was not sure I could have endured as gracefully as she did. In a moment, her life changed drastically and she had to move away to live with an aunt she didn’t know very well. I have to admit, when she called to tell me about what was happening in her life I felt inept to be supportive.
I just knew that what we had learned from each other throughout the year had forged a bond that pushed me to ignore my insecurities about knowing the right thing to say and just be there for her. I listened to her when she needed to talk. I used things I learned at WINGS and lines of the Creed to find the words to say to help her in moments that were too big for either of us to fully process. I felt like I wasn’t doing enough most of the time, but the Creed gave me the language I needed to do my best.
My position of support for her has lessened over the years as she grew more comfortable in her new world. There are times I selfishly feel sad that she doesn’t need me as much as she once did. But I am so thankful that we were given the opportunity to be a part of each other’s lives. Without WINGS, she and I would have never been given the opportunity to teach each other.
As a WINGSLeader, I was put in a position to teach this WINGS kid about life skills, and she taught me more than I could have imagined about resiliency and strength. The power of WINGS does not rest in our engaging and supportive techniques alone. The power of WINGS rests in the hearts of the kids and WINGSLeaders that are paired together to learn more about themselves and the world around them.
I am forever changed from my experiences with this organization. I know kids, families and schools that could say the same too. WINGS inspires the things that make this world a better place for everyone to live in. What an eternal and perpetual blessing WINGS has been for the last 20 years!
Then & Now
WINGS gave me something to look forward to and a positive outlook on life. When I was coming up in a negative environment where I saw lots of negative things, I learned it was better to go to WINGS than to be caught up in things in the neighborhood. I stayed in WINGS until the 5th grade and WINGS followed me through middle school, high school and college graduation.
I may be a firefighter for the City of North Charleston now, but I’m always a WINGS kid at heart.
I Walk Through the House
Program Director, Cara Mitchell
I walk through my house one day and stumble upon little blue stones, journals and a few cards with pictures from summer camp. They all bring me back to my childhood as an avid reader, “boss” of my younger siblings—and my time at WINGS for Girls, an empowering experience that stands out to this day. From sock hops to basketball tournaments, WINGS encouraged us to feel confident about ourselves and allowed us to make friends that came from different backgrounds.
Today, I know that I am more self-and socially aware. I reflect on those treasured memories and hope to create the same memorable experiences for kids. And, in thinking about how those weeks at camp shaped my successes to date, I returned to WINGS with the mission to have a similar impact on these kids’ lives.
After graduating from college, I completed two years with Teach for America and gained invaluable experience from collaborating with veteran teachers. I knew I wanted to keep working with children—this time, at a non-profit organization. I looked to Charleston and, at my mother’s recommendation, took a look at WINGS. I jumped at the opportunity to return.
I immediately entered an exciting workplace and collaborated with a diverse team to make a difference for children in Charleston. I have learned so much from supervising college students, accepting feedback and contributing to their growth in the program. The relationships that I have built are not the norm in other workplaces.
And, as I work with my students at North Charleston Elementary School, I hope that they truly pick up the social and emotional skills that we’re teaching every day and carry them to middle school, high school and beyond. These skills can have a powerful impact on their lives. Take Phyrell, a WINGS student since kindergarten. He had a lot of behavioral issues and fought with and bullied fellow students. Now, he has transformed into an entirely different child, encouraging kids, avoiding fights and displaying respect. As a fifth-grader, he’s an intelligent, curious and inquisitive child that has benefited greatly from the program.
WINGS can empower college students to make a difference and instill in children the skills and mentorship that can transform outcomes both in and outside the classroom. Now, as I look at each of those mementos in my house, I think to how the program continues to impact my life today—and how kids 20 years from now may also reflect and realize how WINGS allowed them to soar to success.
You Matter to Me
I remember hearing about Shanaya from her teacher, who was on the verge of giving up on this 3rd grader who spent most days shut down and balled up underneath her desk. Shanaya had a history of poor behavior, a negative attitude and a defiant streak.
Shanaya didn’t know how to process her feelings about her dad’s recent move a thousand miles away. Her mom, who worked in the school cafeteria, saw close-up and first-hand the school melt downs. Shanaya joined WINGS our very first year in Atlanta and I immediately felt drawn to helping her better express herself. I began to check in with her every day as soon as I got to work and then again in the middle of the school day and also when she got to WINGS. Her teacher and I began to work together to better understand what parts of her day were the toughest. I spent a lot of time talking to Shanaya’s mom and step-dad about her progress. I even encouraged Shanaya’s older sister, who was in middle school, to volunteer so they could build their relationship. We all worked so hard to see Shanaya happy.
It wasn’t always easy, holding Shanaya to this high standard of accountability. She would get an attitude and I’d call her on it, helping her see the effect it had on her group. Through all of the ups and downs, Shanaya and I became close as she learned to trust me.
I was so proud of Shanaya when she won our Behavior Improvement Award.
I am a WINGS Leader and I am responsible for the 4th grade girls at North Charleston Elementary School. They are a dynamic family that work together to learn more about each other and the world around them. These girls now recognize that we are a family and that it is essential to support one another—one of my greatest successes as a program leader but also as an adult with a desire to change the world.
One of the girls in my nest, Tyasia, was intensely shy and withdrawn. Several times throughout the year, I stressed to the other girls in our group that it was our duty as a family to encourage and support Tyasia. Over time, with our efforts, she started to come out of her shell. She started to understand that, by being open with others about her ideas and emotions, she could have a positive effect on the world around her. Yet, everything changed the day Tyasia danced.
WINGS held a school wide dance competition where we had 45 minutes to put together our dance routine; the girls in my group were pulling out every one of their social and emotional skills to put on the best performance. Initially, Tyasia worked to make a poster for the group so that she would not have to dance in front of the rest of the school. When the time came to showcase our dance routine, no one in the group could prepare for what happened next. Tyasia stepped to the front of the stage and proceeded to do the entire dance routine. The group was so surprised and excited that their energy was unparalleled. When our performance ended, we all rushed to hug Tyasia and you could see how she beamed with pride. When I asked why she decided to dance, she told me: “You just keep telling me that I have to love who I am on the inside—today I was excited to show everyone else that I really do love myself!”
Tyasia’s dance served as a symbol of self-love and a testament to the ability of WINGS to make a difference in this world. Tyasia not only found a comfort level with herself that she never had before; she was able to show a room full of adults and children the importance of loving yourself. Tyasia’s life changed by simply coming to an afterschool program that taught her how to do just that.