Children’s author and businesswoman Wendy “Alane” Adams established the Rise Up Foundation in 2008 with the mission of promoting literacy among children in underserved communities. Within the last few years, the foundation has donated more than $650,000 in grants, classroom supplies, new books, and other funding to schools in need. We spoke with Adams about the evolution of Rise Up and how it is supporting teachers and students during the pandemic.
What were the origins of the Rise Up Foundation?
In a previous life, I was in a family business for several years. In 2008, I decided I wanted to find a bit more of my purpose by pursuing my passion for kids. I established the foundation as a platform to make a difference. When I started traveling with organizations such as UNICEF, I saw the many different types of endemic poverty in the world. One of the things I took away was how important education is, and reading.
Back home [in Southern California], I started teaching and learning more about the education system. Meanwhile, I had always wanted to be a writer, and I was inspired to create my first children’s book when my son asked, “Why don’t you write a book that I can read?” One day, I was giving an author speech at a literacy organization when it hit me: literacy should be the cornerstone of the Rise Up Foundation.
I began focusing on supporting teachers in the classroom. We’ve done a lot of work with Donors Choose over the years, through grant funding and also getting teachers the materials they need.
How is Rise Up specifically helping parents and teachers pivot during Covid-19?
We immediately responded with emergency grants of $250–500 to support teachers’ remote learning needs: laptops, cameras, and other equipment.
We’re also continuing to support the #ClearTheList movement founded in 2019 by Texas teacher Courtney Jones. The average teacher spends $400–600 per year out of their own pocket on resources and materials for the classroom that their district doesn’t supply. Teachers started creating and sharing their Amazon wish lists online so people can help by purchasing items off their lists. This example of Twitter philanthropy demonstrated to me the power of connecting through social media with teachers. The movement is really growing. Clorox recently announced that it is donating one million dollars to ClearTheList to help teachers during the back-to-school season.
One night, while I was trying to fall asleep, I had a brainstorm: I have all these credit card points, and I started thinking, how can I use that? It turns out, you can use your reward points to register through Amazon and find a teacher’s wish list online and buy them a box of pencils, etc. to donate. It doesn’t cost a thing. We pledged 1 million points to kick off the program last fall as part of our #PointsForTeachersCampaign.
Have you found new ways to connect with kids during this time?
For me, a great way to connect with kids through Rise Up has been to go on the road and talk to them about reading and why it’s a superpower. I feel it’s important to connect with children on a one-to-one level. I’ve spoken with more than 100,000 kids at more than 300 schools, but sadly all of that has been shut down during the pandemic.
While I can’t give my talk in person right now, Rise Up pivoted to trying to create a virtual school visit. I took my usual presentation and tried to break it down into segmented videos for the classroom. We hired Binary Pulse to help with the technical aspects. We’re using animation and humor to try to keep it engaging and interactive while also making it bite-sized enough so that teachers can plan their lessons around the videos. They can space out the segments over a week, or share them with students all at once.
I’m hoping it can be a high-quality product, something they’ll use for years to come even after the current crisis. I can visit at most 100 schools in a normal year, and I realized that is not sustainable. Having these videos is going to be a great supplement in the long term. We’re still in the discovery phase, having just completed the script, and we probably won’t be filming until September. But we plan to release the content to teachers by October.
Do you have any words of encouragement for educators who are facing an uncertain and challenging return to school due to Covid-19?
It just hits you in the gut. You’re asking one of the lowest paid professions to hold the line of defense, to protect students as much they would their own kids, without any funding for wipes or hand sanitizer, or other supplies. They want nothing more than to be in the classroom, yet they fear for everyone’s health and safety. So much is being asked of them, and so little direction is offered.
The only encouragement we can give is to let them know we’re here and we care and we stand with them. No matter how, in-person or virtual, teachers deserve our support and that’s the best thing we can do. To let them know we understand the situation they’re in and to try to lift them up until life goes back to some kind of new normal.