Print Post
  • “We developed a business plan where we could give the parents we hired a 20% increase in wages and full-year employment. It gives these parents more time to spend with their families,” says Larry Campbell of Corners Outreach. Tweet This
  • Corners Outreach is an example of the “ success sequence ” being implemented on the ground in local communities. Tweet This

Jorge* is a bright, 12-year-old Latino student in Norcross, Georgia, who was struggling in his local middle school and would often begin to cry when asked about his day. He refused to tell his family why he was upset, so his mother, who did not speak much English, brought him to Corners Outreach, a local non-profit for at-risk students headed by Larry Campbell. After Campbell began spending some one-on-one time with Jorge, the boy tearfully confided that he was being bullied by another student, but when he told his school counselor about the bullying, he was instructed to “man up.” Jorge was so afraid of the bully that he had been soiling his pants at school and was too embarrassed to tell his mother what was happening. Campbell immediately got involved.

“You’ve got a 12-year-old kid and you tell him to ‘man up,’ but he doesn’t understand what that means,” Campbell says. “So, I worked kind of a back door and got the new counselor to spend time with the other counselor. And we were able to get him to recognize that Jorge didn’t know what to do with that advice. And the good news is, we eventually we got it solved, and Jorge is a model student, and life is better.”

Bullying, cultural and language differences, and poverty are just a few of the obstacles to school success that lower-income children like Jorge face—obstacles that Corners Outreach is trying to help students and their parents overcome by getting involved in their day-to-day lives.

“We want to stand with our kids in such a way that they can share life with us,” says Campbell.

When it comes to upward economic mobility, we know that what happens at home, within that child’s family, is as important as the child’s access to a good education. Corners Outreach is working with Title I schools in their community to serve and support lower-income, mostly Latino children who are at high risk for dropping out of school through a variety of programs aimed at helping the students and their parents see the value of education and escape poverty. The nonprofit began in 2012 with one after-school homework club staffed by a few volunteers from a local church, but in only a few years, it has grown to include four homework clubs and a broader outreach that brings volunteers from local churches and businesses together to serve not only the students but their families as well.

Corners Outreach started because Campbell was concerned about the high drop-out rate in his community and wanted to find a way to help reduce it. As the son of working-class parents who was the first in his family to go to college, he knows firsthand that a good education is one of the keys to mobility. He worked his way through college and went on to become a successful businessman.

“College changed my life and changed my trajectory,” he emphasizes. “When I sit down to work with our families, I talk a great deal about how to break the cycle of poverty. And education is a big way to do that.”

Along with other volunteers from his church, Larry partnered with a local elementary school in Norcross, Georgia, to offer after-school tutoring and mentoring to its students who were at the highest risk of dropping out. Today, that outreach, known as Corners Academy, serves over 600 children in five area elementary schools with over 200 volunteers and 10 full-time, bilingual staff.

At the homework clubs, students receive a snack and individualized help with their school work, especially in the areas of reading and math, where many struggle the most. Campbell says they focus on reading because students who do not read well by third grade are four times more likely to drop out than those who do read well, according to a study by researchers at Northwestern University. Students also learn social-emotional concepts like self-awareness, curiosity, creativity, empathy, and resilience, which Campbell says can help “increase as students’ success both in their school work and for life.”

But the nonprofit’s work in the community does not end with homework help or with the students themselves. It also hosts a weekly teen night for older students and/or siblings, a neighborhood summer camp, life skill and ESL classes for the parents of its students, and an early-learning program developed with Atlanta Speech School.

In March of last year, the nonprofit also added a new component to their organization called Corners Industries, which creates jobs for the parents of students in the clubs through a landscaping business.

Campbell explains that they take 15% of the profit from the landscaping business and put it back into the tutoring programs. They launched the job program after he began to notice that the dads in the families often worked two or even three jobs for very low wages and were therefore not as available as the moms.

“When you live below the living wage, it focuses a lot of your time on working. So, what I really was trying to address is how do I get more time with dad?” he says. “We basically developed a business plan where we could give the parents we hired two important things: a 20% increase in wages, and full-year employment, so we moved from seasonal work to where they get paid for holidays. It gives these parents less financial stress and more time to spend with their families.”

Corners Outreach is an example of the “ success sequence ” being implemented on the ground in local communities. The nonprofit has been incorporating aspects of the success sequence into their program since the beginning, but according to Campbell, they mostly focus on the “education” step because that is the one that is needed most by the Latino families they serve.

“In Latino culture, it’s pretty much a nuclear family, where dad is outside the family working and mom is inside taking care of the kids.” He adds that most of the families embrace the marriage-before-baby step in the sequence but struggle with the education-before-job step. “Latino, second-language students only graduate 35% of the time in Georgia,” he notes. “So, for most of our families, it’s trying to get the education component in front of employment because of the poverty issues.”

So how successful has Corners Outreach been in helping their students succeed in school? Campbell reports that their students have improved over 35% in academic testing on reading, math, and writing skills, and the program boasts at least one high school graduate so far. Michael, the son of a single mother of a five, started in the homework club back when it first began and also attended the summer camp. He recently became the first in his family to graduate high school and began attending college this past fall. Not only will Michael go to college but hopefully so will his younger siblings, who are now attending homework club. Michael’s older brothers, who left high school to go to work, are helping to support their brother financially. One of those brothers is also working with Corners Outreach to earn his GED.

According to Larry Campbell, helping at-risk children and their families escape poverty is about connecting with those families where they are and targeting the help where they need it most.

“What we tell people is, lean in. We’ve been able to bring church people and volunteer groups and private schools and local businesses all together to work at homework club. And it creates a beautiful understanding of each other’s lives,” he says. “It’s really about connecting. And once we connect, we find that we’re a lot more similar than we might believe.”

*Name has been changed to protect the child’s privacy.

Alysse ElHage is Editor of the Institute for Family Studies blog.