Friday

In celebration of Elaine A. Fahrner - SYF advocate, champion, friend

Contributed by J. Michael Durnil, Ph.D., President and CEO, Simon Youth Foundation

“Elaine Passed” 

The text was simple, yet overwhelming.  These two words were not the way I wanted to start my day, but had I allowed the message to interrupt work at SYF, Elaine would have been disappointed.  So I tied my orange bow tie, and I did my best to shake off the sting of this sad news.  


On November 11, 2014, Simon Youth Foundation lost a great friend, advocate and champion. Elaine A. Fahrner served until 2013 as Principal at the Academy at Old Cockrill in Nashville, Tennessee.  In addition to transforming the lives of thousands of her own students, she was instrumental in creating a strong relationship between Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools and SYF that is helping thousands more students.

Our SYF success story is still being written in Nashville and in many other communities today because of Elaine; she made it so that you couldn’t say “no” to her.

I remember vividly our first meeting. I was wearing my characteristic bow tie on that day too, and saddle shoes. Upon being introduced to each other, Elaine gave me a skeptical once over and pronounced in her most dignified, genteel southern accent, “You aren’t from around here are you?”  I laugh now, because, I think, she was not posing a question as much as she was offering a statement.

That’s what I loved most about Elaine. She was a keen observer of human behavior and the quintessential personification of “speak softly and carry a big stick.” In her case, a big stick was a heart as big as all get out and the desire to help every student she met, whether the student would admit to needing help or not. You see, Elaine was one of those “old school” teachers. She loved teaching because she believed in the transformative power of education and the basic principle that all students can and should learn.

I always enjoyed going to Nashville to see Elaine in action at her Academy. On more than one occasion, I was privileged to witness and participate in the graduation tradition hosted gleefully by Elaine.  The moment a student earned enough credits to graduate, activity in the halls of Old Cockrill would stop, and students would line up against the corridor walls. 

Elaine would take her place, commanding attention with her charm - and often an air horn - and she would introduce with great fanfare and the newest graduate of The Academy. I loved that the other students would erupt as if they were at a Friday night football game, and all eyes would fall on the graduate as they made their celebratory stroll into the open arms of Elaine and other teachers. As the graduate would strut or sashay down the hall, Elaine’s face would light up with pride and sincere happiness. I always thought, “I hope these students know how lucky they are to have a Principal like her!”

Elaine had an encyclopedic knowledge of each of her students. She knew their aspirations as well as the daily challenges they faced. As we’d walk the halls, she would carry on conversations with each of the students, making sure they knew that she knew. 

I was in awe.

Elaine taught me many things, from the meaning of “meat and three” (a Nashville restaurant that serves meat with three side dishes) to being fearless in support of her students.

Christa McAuliffe is famous for many reasons, but her words are what resonate the most with me. She said, “I touch the future. I teach.”  Truer words could not be spoken about Elaine.  She touched so many lives, including the teachers, students and colleagues she engaged on her path.

We are all better for knowing Elaine, and now we have the opportunity to carry forward her legacy.  I am grateful to her for trusting all of us with it.

All I can say is now is that St. Peter better have an air horn waiting. It’s Elaine’s graduation day, and she set a high standard.

Elaine’s obituary from her family, follows:

Elaine A. Fahrner, devoted friend, partner, sister, and educator-extraordinaire lost her battle with cancer on November 11, 2014.  Elaine was 65 years young.  She was, as always, surrounded by friends who loved her dearly. 

Elaine was born August 2, 1949 in Rushville, Indiana to her proud parents, Charles and Evaleah, who preceded her in death.  It was soon apparent that Elaine was too big for that small town and she left for Ball State after graduation – a band geek with a big future.   She knew she could change the world by helping children believe in their potential, so she became a teacher. 

She taught in the Aleutian Islands, Alaska - which was quite a feat for someone who hated to fly - then settled in Nashville at Glendale Middle School.  Many grateful children remember her classroom as a fun and creative place to learn.  Elaine was often hailed in grocery stores and restaurants around Nashville - “Ms. Fahrner!” – and she would look into their faces and see their 10 year old selves.  She would search her memory and recall their names and their smiles, and she would congratulate them on who they had become.  Once they walked away, she sometimes said “that kid was a mess!”  She obviously fixed them all.  

Elaine went on to teach at East Literature and Martha Vaught Middle School, where she eventually became principal.   Metro schools then made a decision that would impact the dreams and ambitions of hundreds of Nashville students when they gave Elaine the opportunity to fulfill her own dream of opening a non-traditional high school for Nashville students.  The Academy at Old Cockrill has been creating second chances for at-risk kids since 2009 by offering inspired, and inspiring, alternative curriculum to students who have not otherwise been able to earn a diploma.  Elaine had found her place – and in doing so, she helped so many others find theirs.  She gathered together other educators who believed in her vision, and together they changed our world by guiding their students in reaching their potential.  Ask anyone who went to Old Cockrill about Ms. Fahrner and they will tell you that she believed in them – every single one.

When she wasn’t changing lives at work, she was changing her golf score. We don’t want to say that she shaved strokes – that would be a lie – but she did win a lot.  She loved golf because it was a challenge, but mostly because she got to spend time with friends and have beverages delivered right to her cart.  For 10 years, she and her dear friend Suzanne Bradford hosted the Fahrford golf tournament - a coveted, invitation-only, best-ball scramble.  An invitation to the Fahrford signaled your arrival – not necessarily to the golfing elite, but to the elite world of special friends and extraordinary fun. 

Elaine is survived by her partner/spouse  Cindy Dempsey, sister Juli and her partner Tammy Hope and their daughter Kati, brother Greg and his wife Becky and their daughter Aimee Jo, her in-laws Jean and Ben Dempsey, Cheryl Dempsey, Ben and Sarah Dempsey and their daughters Elizabeth (Luke) and Paige.  

Elaine’s natural story-telling ability was well-known, with a delivery that was deliberate, embellished and perfectly timed.  She loved her mother’s deviled eggs made with candied dill pickles.   She loved her friends – relationships maintained over many years and in numbers too many to mention (but you know who you are).  Elaine never failed to mesmerize a crowd – we were all captivated students to her knowledge and wit.  She leaves a hole as big as her personality and as deep as her loyalty. She will be missed beyond words.  

Near the end, Elaine said this: “I lived a life with no regrets.  I was able to start the school of my dreams and I married the love of my life”.  What more could you ask?


Thursday

Bullying is preventable. Learn how you can help stop it before it starts.

We’ve all been there.  Or we've witnessed it.  Or we’ve seen the damage and the hurt. ​Maybe, just maybe, we were the ones who were doing it.  We were the ones being the bully.  Or watching someone getting bullied, and we laughed or we did nothing.

​Depicted on television and in movies for years, a part of our literature for centuries, and an unfortunate corollary to the Information Age, bullying (and cyber-bullying) have entered the forefront of the public consciousness as behavior that is no longer either cool or acceptable.

​October is Bullying Awareness Month.  We at Simon Youth Foundation encounter the effects of bullying in our Academies every day.  Many of our students come to our schools because they have been bullied to the point of wanting to drop out. And we all know the average economic and career prospects of a high school dropout in 21st-century America.

​Cyber bullying is particularly harsh due to its very nature—the threat and the consequences are there every hour of every day.  A note passed in class is one thing, but the same words written on Facebook or other avenues of social media carry a sting that is nearly impossible to escape.

​Simon Youth Foundation embraces our role in serving students who have been bullied and helping them chart a course that rebuilds their self-respect, emphasizes consideration for others, and creates a new path to Graduation Day. ​It is our mission to provide these students with opportunities to succeed, and it is our responsibility to deliver and reinforce the message that bullying and cyber bullying are unacceptable in any environment.

Bullying is, without question, a circumstance that leads many students to Simon Youth Academies. And it is a circumstance that is largely preventable by a concerted effort from fellow students, friends, adults and mentors in these students' lives. Learn more about bullying, cyber bullying, and how to stop it before it starts. Visit http://www.stopbullying.gov to read about the effects of bullying on kids and their educational opportunities. 

Friday

The ribbons are cut at two new Simon Youth Academies!

Within the span of two weeks, Simon Youth Foundation opened two new Simon Youth Academy spaces – one in Orlando, FL and one in Westminster, CA.  Both Academy spaces will expand the capacity of existing successful programs.  Both offer at-risk students a welcoming, state-of-the-art alternative high school setting.  Both demonstrate the power of partnerships . . . and the Power of Orange.

In Orlando, SYF has partnered since 2001 with Orange County Public Schools and Simon Malls to operate a successful dropout prevention and recovery program.  When the program outgrew its former site, Outlet Marketplace on International Drive stepped in to help create Simon Youth Academy at Outlet Marketplace.  As the first student walked through the door for the first day of school on September 25, 2014, he exclaimed to his classmates, “Wow!  This is the best school ever. Can you believe this is ours?”

In Westminster, CA, SYF has partnered with Huntington Beach Union High School District and Westminster Mall to operate a successful dropout prevention and recovery program since 2003. The new Simon Youth Academy at Westminster Mall will expand capacity to serve students at the mall, and now through an affiliated second site, Simon Youth Coast High School Academy.

Simon Youth Academy at Outlet Marketplace, Simon Youth Academy at Westminster Mall and Simon Youth Coast High School Academy will among 22 Simon Youth Academies nationwide that exist to help at-risk students stay in school. To-date, SYF has graduated more than 12,000 students, awarded more than $12 million in scholarships and maintained a 90% cumulative graduation rate across all Academies.

In Orlando, the existing program has served more than 650 students, and Simon Malls in the Orlando area have awarded $234,000 to local college-bound high school students.  In Westminster, the existing program has served more than 600 students, and Simon Malls in the Orange County, CA area have awarded $98,000 to local college-bound high school students.  

Join in recognizing our graduates on American Graduate Day

At Simon Youth Foundation, we believe graduation day is an amazing stop on life's journey. No matter how you got there, the challenges you faced, or the obstacles you overcame, the day you graduated from high school is one that you will never forget.

American Graduate Day is Saturday, September 27th, and we're marking this national conversation about education by celebrating the achievements of our Simon Youth Academy graduates.  We will join the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, WFYI, and AmericanGraduate.org in touting not only the importance of the day, but also brag a little bit about the achievements of our students.

We are enormously proud of our graduates, and we salute them, their families, their teachers, and their mentors on the collective work it took to reach this day.  SYF remains committed to working with our partners to ensure that our students attain this goal.  Anyone familiar with our work knows that we fight every day to make a difference in the lives of at-risk youth and help them develop the life skills and devotion necessary not only to graduate from high school, but to succeed beyond that.

Please listen to your local public broadcasting station for stories about students achieving the goal of becoming a high school graduate.  Listen to their stories as they recount their journeys and make it clear that the best is yet to come.

In Indianapolis, tune into WFYI at 4:24 p.m. on Saturday, September 27, 2024 to learn more about SYF.  Follow @wfyi and @simon_youth on Twitter, and use #AmGradIndy to join in the conversation and celebrate our graduates!

Wednesday

Celebrate Constitution Day by Supporting Civic Literacy

September 17th is Constitution Day in the United States.  Since it’s not a national holiday in the outdoor BBQ sense, it will probably not be on anyone’s radar.

And that’s a shame.

In all of recorded history, are there any documents that rise above the U.S. Constitution in its impact on human freedom?  Perhaps a few…but in the family photo of such things, our Constitution is in the first row, front and center.

Civic literacy is something we associate with the social studies curriculum in primary and secondary school.  Based on statistics gleaned from just about every poll and survey in the public domain, civics—government, history, etc.—is something perhaps learned, but quickly forgotten.

According to the Civic Mission of Schools web site (http://www.civicmissionofschools.org), the numbers reflecting the adult population’s understanding of basic American civics is less a report and more of an indictment. One-third of Americans could name all three branches of the federal government; one-third couldn't name any. Only 47 percent of Americans know that a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court carries the same weight as a 9-0 decision.

Not yet worried about the future of our democracy?  In mid-term elections (when

the presidency is not on the ballot), turnout has not broken 50 percent for the past 16 cycles.

What is the foundation of this apathy?  Is it the polarization of our political discourse in general?  The busy lives of people as they go about their daily business?  The weather?  All or none of the above?

Or, sadly, is it weakness in civic literacy education? A sense of civic responsibility is best planted when our children are surrounded by smart teachers who inculcate the benefits of knowing how our system of government works, how it was constructed, and why men and women have fought and died to preserve it.

The Simon Youth Foundation is dedicated to working with our schools and ancillary organizations to raise the level of civic awareness among our students.  Through an increased understanding and enthusiasm about the role of citizens in government, we hope to make civic literacy a point of pride.

Our nation is passing through one of its greatest periods of trial in our 238-year history.  We need everyone—regardless of income or education level—to pay attention to the currents of democracy.

While rising to the occasion has always been a hallmark of the American people, we cannot rely on this phenomenon as a means of addressing the critical problems of our country and its future.  The civic responsibility inherent in the freedoms we all enjoy demands a literacy rate far above our current standards.

For more on Constitution Day, please visit http://www.constitutionday.com. For more information about civic literacy, including access to national resources and research, please visit http://civicliteracy.iupui.edu. 


Wishing Continued “Soxcess” for 2014 SYF Scholarship Recipient, Jeremy Garriga

Contributed by Jen Pittman, Vice President of Programs at Simon Youth Foundation

As a parent, I work hard every day to make my children happy and put them in a position to succeed.  I give them all the love I can, provide them with support and encouragement, and tell them that their hard work will be recognized and rewarded. 

I like to think all these wonderful truths and feelings will be enough; but I know, sometimes, that it takes a little extra to make dreams come true and hope a reality.

Through the Simon Youth Community Scholarship Program, SYF strives to be the “little extra” that students, parents, and schools need to meet their goals and secure a brighter future.  Frequently, we are lucky enough to get affirmation of our mission through a note from a student or parent.

Just such a note came to us this summer from Jeremy Garriga.  Jeremy lives in New Jersey and recently received a Simon Youth Community Scholarship from Newport Centre to attend college this fall.

Jeremy Garriga, Scholarship Recipient
Jeremy is more than just a young man headed to Seton Hall University to major in pre-med with a goal of being a neurosurgeon and medical researcher.  He is also a young entrepreneur, volunteer and philanthropist.

While still in high school, Jeremy founded Soxcess – an initiative dedicated to providing new socks and other basic necessities to those in need.  In three years, Soxcess provided hundreds of socks and other goods to shelters in New Jersey and a pediatric hospital.  Jeremy even partnered with LUSH and Target, and these retailers provided donated goods and volunteer service.

Jeremy’s SYF scholarship will go toward his tuition and the overall cost of attending Seton Hall.  He earned it by putting into practice all the things he was taught by others and all the amazing things he taught himself.

Our 2015 scholarship program is just around the corner.  Soon, we’ll be looking in every community that is home to a Simon property for our next class of scholarship recipients.  We know there are incredible college-bound high school students, like Jeremy, whose dreams will be more readily attainable with a “little extra” help, and SYF would be proud to play a role in their educational pursuits.  Learn more about Simon Youth Community Scholarships at syf.org.

Making More of the Future than a Hard Life Inherited

Contributed by J. Michael Durnil, Ph.D., President and CEO, Simon Youth Foundation

The calendar tells me it’s “back to school” time, but I am still thinking about an experience I had during this past spring’s graduation season. I have the privilege to represent SYF at Simon Youth Academy graduations, and my very favorite part of this experience is standing in the receiving line of well-wishers and shaking the hands of graduates as they cross the stage to receive their diplomas.

2014  Graduates from Simon Youth Academy at Northgate Mall
As part of my graduation remarks, I always make it a point to tell the students and assembled audiences that every member of the SYF team is humbled by the fact that we played some small part in helping change a student’s life.  This year, as a young man crossed the stage, he extended the duration of the hand shake just a little longer than most, looked me in the eye, and said, “Sir, SYF didn’t change my life. It saved my life.”

I could stop there, but his declaration is the beginning of my story.

An ongoing topic of conversation in the office, especially as we try to grow the awareness of the work of the Simon Youth Foundation, is how great it would be if editorial boards at major newspapers (or even smaller papers) could get as excited as we do about the stories of our students, teachers, partner schools, and Simon Mall leaders who are working together to create real change. Sounds simple. But the concept is surprisingly complex. It’s difficult to explain, and even more difficult for some to comprehend unless they have personally experienced the challenges our students, teachers and even community advocates face.

Our goal at SYF is to make sure we provide as many opportunities as we can for our Academies, partner school districts and communities in an effort to minimize the effects of disadvantages. In short, taking students from being “at-risk” to what we like to call “at-promise.”

The demographics and statistics about the students we have the great fortune to work with can be staggering. We are extraordinarily proud of our 90% graduation rate, especially when you couple it with the understanding that 35% of our students are the first ones in their family to receive a high school diploma. And to be clear, that 90% graduation rate isn’t some 10% ahead of the 2012 National Center for Education Statistics reported percentage of 80%. The SYF delta of change is a full 90%; none of the students who are served by our partner schools through the Simon Youth Academies were destined to graduate high school.

In SYF-ese, we want them to “Start here. Go anywhere.”

As we start back to school, gather our supplies, and hope to harness the excitement of the new year and opportunities ahead, let’s work together to ignite hope in our students – hope that their future isn’t just a hard life inherited; but through the empathy of our stakeholders, that their future is a new legacy for their family and community.

Here’s to a great school year.

I’m already looking forward to graduation day, when I will once again have the privilege of shaking hands with more than a thousand hard-working students.



Friday

#BeMonumental on 11.1.14

Lace up those “power of orange” sneakers, and get ready to make a monumental difference in a student’s life!

On Saturday, November 1, 2014, runners of all ages and ability levels from beginners to elite marathoners will hit the fast, flat, scenic course of the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, Half Marathon, Monumental 5k and Kids Fun Run.  Heading into its 7th year, the Monumental is Indiana's largest and fastest marathon and among the 100 largest marathons in the world.

Along with educating youth about the benefits of healthy living, and combating community deterioration, the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon is passionate about helping organizations that support education – including Simon Youth Foundation.  In the last six years, the Monumental has donated more than $500,000 to local public school charities. SYF is honored to be among the recipients and proud to partner once again with Indianapolis Monumental Marathon.
Join us on November 1, 2014 in downtown Indy to run or walk in support of a great cause.  Save $5 when you register with the code SYF, and $5 will be donated to Simon Youth Foundation.   Visit monumentalmarathon.com. 

Thursday

Simon Partnerships, Two Summer Events Generate $350K in Support for SYF

Summertime is the season for golf and backyard get-togethers, and this year Simon served up both . . . with a generous, orange twist.  Simon employees and corporate partners hit the links at Legends Golf Course in Franklin, Indiana on June 27th for the 7th Annual Tees for Education, and they gathered again to mingle and soak up summer on July 12th for the 3rd Annual Founders Celebration.  The two events combined to generate $350,000 in support for Simon Youth Foundation!

Founders Celebration attendees also had an opportunity to experience the true impact of SYF on the life of an individual student when they met Brandon Pressley – a 2013 graduate of Simon Youth Academy at Opry Mills. Brandon’s story captivated Simon employees earlier in 2014, and his presence this summer was a pleasant surprise for SYF’s founders, founding board members and most steadfast supporters. 

At SYF, every penny raised is put to good use.  Every $1,000 raised is celebrated, as it builds capacity to serve one more student. $350,000 raised brings impact at a level that’s almost difficult to imagine.  Through the generosity of Simon employees and corporate partners, two events alone will completely support 350 students from enrollment in a Simon Youth Academy through graduation day.  350 students like Brandon will have brighter futures. That’s the #PowerOfOrange!

Long list of firsts characterizes SYF Scholarship recipient

Karla Garcia is a 2014 Simon Youth Community Scholarship recipient, a first-generation American, the first in her family to graduate from high school and the first in her family to attend college.  She was kind enough to send the following note to SYF, and we want to share it with our supporters and advocates – the people who have made it possible for us to play a role in Karla’s educational pursuits.

Dear SYF team,

Thank you for your generous contribution toward my higher education through the Simon Youth Scholarship program.  One month ago, I became the first person in my family to graduate from high school, and in a few weeks, I’ll be the first to attend college.

My parents are from a small, rural pueblo in Mexico, where the violation of basic civil rights is part of everyday life.  It’s no place to raise children.  My parents sacrificed everything and moved away from family and friends to provide me an opportunity to pursue the American dream – to fulfill my potential – in this blessed nation.

Here, in our great country, I am free.  I have a voice.  I am independent.  And I can be prosperous! The journey as a first-generation American has not been easy, but it has been entirely worth it.  I am so blessed by wonderful people and organizations – like SYF – that support youth like me in realizing and pursuing our dreams.

When my father first came to the United States at the age of 16, his very first job was at the power plant at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  This fall, I will be able to return to UNC, not as a laborer, but as a college student.  I am the eldest in my family and hope to set the example of hard work, resilience and discipline for my younger siblings.

As I enter my college career and professional life, my mission is to make the lives of others better and to serve selflessly.  Professionally, I hope to contribute to closing the education gap for minorities, so that we diversify the leadership of our country, and hence, bring forth unique knowledge and experiences.  I also hope to enter the realm of local politics and public affairs . . . perhaps on the school board, city council, Congress, and maybe even the Presidency one day. “Karla in 2040” has a nice ring to it!

Thank you for making this possible.

With the most sincere gratitude,
Karla G. Garcia
2014 Graduate and SYF Scholarship Recipient