Partner Agency Spotlight: Reaching for the Stars Tutoring Program

Dee Camm is the President and co-founder of The Sky Is the Limit Community Development Corporation. Both Camm and her co-founder, Emanju Zinnah, were working for the City of Charlotte when they created The Sky Is the Limit CDC. Since, furthering education is the goal of the corporation, Camm remarked, “We knew that we wanted to provide high quality tutoring services to the at-risk community free of charge.” The Sky Is the Limit CDC has created a mentoring program, a free tutoring program at two locations, as well as a North Carolina AAU divisional football and cheerleading league.


Dee Camm

Camm explains the mission of The Sky Is the Limit below.

“The Next Generation Mentoring Program connects professional men and women with at risk boys and girls. The mentor provides guidance, career advice, support, and encouragement throughout the duration of the mentoring relationship. The children within this program come from neighborhoods that have a high concentration of violence, teen pregnancy, and high school dropouts.

The Reaching for the Stars Tutoring Program takes place at two free tutoring locations here in Charlotte, NC. The locations were strategically placed in neighborhoods that have a significant amount of at-risk youth. The free tutoring services are provided to grades K – 9 throughout the entire academic year.

For the 2016 academic school year, Reaching for the Stars received a laptop based literacy grant through Habitat for Humanity. The literacy software provides each child with a customizable learning experience based on their current literacy level and learning style.”

Study Buddies West Blvd 2

HOC Volunteer with Reaching for the Stars student

In the early days of The Sky Is the Limit, Camm and her team had already gathered educational resources, such as a laptop-based literacy program and EOG prep curriculum, but what they really needed were volunteers. Thankfully, there was another nonprofit waiting to partner with and support Camm’s fledgling organization. Hands On Charlotte specializes in volunteer recruitment and management for other nonprofits. Camm remarked, “We were in desperate need of volunteers who not only had a desire to make a difference in the community but that also cared about the future of children. After meeting with Doug, the Director of Programs, we immediately knew that Hands On Charlotte was the missing piece to our Charlotte mission.”

Camm is pleased with the work her organization and HOC have accomplished together. “The Hands On Charlotte staff (Doug in particular) is very supportive of our goals, mission, and the overall success of the tutoring program. They have invited me to orientation sessions to allow me to directly recruit volunteers and they always keep the lines of communication open. The volunteers for Study Buddies at West Blvd Library are friendly, professional, and helpful.”

The Sky Is the Limit CDC aims to provide volunteers with the opportunity to make a difference in a community that is in desperate need of their assistance while also having fun. When asked what she wants volunteers to take away from the experience, Camm replied “I want the volunteers to walk away knowing that they made a difference in a child’s academic future. I want them to know that their hours of volunteer work have decreased the dropout rate of an at-risk youth.”

Study Buddies - West Blvd

Reaching for the Stars student with HOC tutor

Camm thinks the best part of her job is making a difference in someone’s life daily, such as hearing reports from parents about their child’s increase in academic and behavioral performance. “Helping people is my calling in life. It’s what I was placed on this earth to accomplish. There is no greater feeling than knowing that you are operating from a higher calling. Attending a graduation, watching a child go from failing to honor roll, putting a smile on the face of those in need…there is no greater feeling than that.”

  • Breannon Wills is an aspiring author and creative enthusiast who hopes to one day start a creative children’s non-profit organization.

Out of Office

BelkCloseFrom the sales floor of a department store or a desk at the corporate offices, Charlotte’s Reid Park Academy may seem like a world away. But late last week, more than 250 employees of Belk, Inc. found themselves at the west Charlotte school armed with paint brushes, gardening gloves and trash bags.

“It’s been nice to leave your job for a few hours and do something like this,” Belk employee Richard Carter told the Charlotte Observer. “It’s fun to give something back to the community.”

The project at Reid Park marked the end of a four-month endeavor by Belk to mobilize 23,000 employees in 16 states as part of the company’s 125 Days of Service.

Reid Park Academy was one of eleven Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools serving low-income families which received improvements ranging from new landscaping and paint to bookshelves.

Nationwide, Belk employees worked on the campuses of 220 schools during projects organized by Points of Light, the parent organization of Hands On Charlotte.

The Belk initiative in Charlotte is one of the largest examples of recent All Hands projects managed by Hands On Charlotte.

Each year, Hands On Charlotte matches employees of companies, both large and small, with the needs of our community. The employer identifies the company’s volunteer interests and timeline, and Hands On Charlotte makes a match with one of more than 100 partner agencies, while also providing the tools and management oversight to ensure the volunteer project goes smoothly for all involved.

Hands On Charlotte would like to say “thanks” for the contributions of Belk employees that will have a direct impact on students returning to class this fall. “We’re impacting the learning environment and giving kids the chance to be more productive citizens,” Eric Law, Hands On Charlotte’s executive director, told the Charlotte Observer.

Check out some additional pictures at Hands On Charlotte’s Facebook page

By The Numbers (in 16 states)

  • 21,000 volunteer hours of service
  • 8,000 books collected or donated
  • 5,000 paintings produced
  • 315 picnic tables built
  • $500,000 = value of service hours
  • 131,000 = number of students impacted by volunteer projects
Mark Boone
Board Member & Communications Volunteer
Hands On Charlotte


Family Day at the Bechtler Museum

One couldn’t have asked for a better weekend. Not only did we have a lovely spring day in January, but we also participated in Family Day at the Bechtler museum.

The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art hosted a fun filled day which included museum tours and arts activities for children under the age of 18.  Shortly after noon, the museum bustled with children’s excitement to let their imagination run wild. Hands On Charlotte was asked to facilitate one of the arts activities for students.  Families could choose to participate in a scavenger hunt, water color still life, oil portrait drawing, and/or pipe cleaning sculptures.  For my time, I volunteered to help children make their own sculpture.

One of the Bechtler’s featured collections is Giacometti: Memory and Presence. The collection features one of the most recognized modernist artist in the 20th century. Giacometti was known for evoking emotion through sculpture, paintings, prints and drawings to name a few.  As an activity, the Bechtler wanted children to emulate Giacometti’s process of creating sculptures.

It was great to see the creativity among the children with just two pipe cleaners, play doh and tin foil. The bustle in the video gallery influenced some of the parents to create their own sculpture!  I loved the variety of sculptures and the interaction with each individual. It was interesting to hear some of the children’s reasons for their sculpture and the questions asked.  I can’t capture all of the sculptures. Let’s just say no two creations were alike!

If you didn’t have the opportunity to participate this month, there will be another opportunity on February 5th.

Leticia Foster
Communications Volunteer
Hands On Charlotte

New Year, New Opportunities

As I step out of room 2012 and into room 2013, I realize that I will never be able to enter the room of 2012 again and will only be left with the memories of what once was. I look ahead in to the new room that awaits me, and I am excited for the possibilities that lie ahead in the next year I will spend in this room.

Like many others, I walk into the room with goals that I want to turn the room into. There are things I want to see, windows I want to open, things I want to create and people I want to help. I know that like most everyone, there is not a regret from the last year that too much time was spent helping others, but there is always a little something in everyone’s minds that wishes they would have done a little more to help the less fortunate.

Hands On Charlotte has a room for 2013. There is space for you and everyone you know to pay a visit and return often. Hands On Charlotte partners with more than 100 nonprofit organizations to organize groups of people and serve the needs of the less fortunate through various volunteer activities.

Hands On Charlotte’s goal is to recruit thousands of visitors in the month of January, and for those people to become regular givers to the needs of those that don’t always have the fortunes of everyone else. A great opportunity to become involved or reconnect with Hands On Charlotte is on Saturday January 19th. This is the day set for the Martin Luther King Call to Service.

Every year Hands On Charlotte unites people to spend this day giving to the community through various non-profit groups to honor Dr. King’s legacy. This year the activities will be spread through three locations and will involve many young people through various school programs. I challenge you to step forward in the first part of the year and be an example for young people. The locations are East Mecklenburg High School, Harding University High and Blythe Elementary School. These are drop in locations with various activities ranging from organizing donated food and clothing, creating video messages for troops overseas, wrapping books for children living in shelters and many others.

Let’s all start the year off with a shelf in our room that displays what we have done for others. Even if many won’t be able to see the shelf, it will be something that you can look upon throughout the year as something you are proud of. You will smile to yourself and know all of the lives you touched. That is something that will be with you for the rest of your life, the time you decided to start helping others more. That small amount of time out of our lives can help to make a world of difference in a life we will never know. Think of how good it will feel to know that in some small way you are helping 2013 to start off better for a complete stranger. I look forward to seeing you at one of these locations and spend a few hours with you to change lives forever.

“It takes a noble man to plant a seed for a tree that will some day give shade to people he may never meet.”  – D. Elton Trueblood

Ryan Kamp
Communications Volunteer
Hands On Charlotte



Where a child (and their parent) meets the village

Kindergarten isn’t what it used to be. Or, it isn’t what I remember it to be.

I recently discovered this as I struggle to keep up with my eldest son’s social calendar, school fundraisers, class projects, extracurricular activities and homework. He’s five years old, a kindergartner. An 8-hour school day followed by homework!?

The kindergarten I remember was comprised of circle time, free play time and naps. The school day was four hours long.

I have no doubt the reading and writing skills my son is honing early in his education will help him succeed well into high school and beyond. My wife and I are very pleased with his teacher and the public school he is attending.

But Kindergarten has been an eye-opener on just how involved a parent must be in their child’s education. All too often, students do not have the full support of their family. Educators believe the lack of parental support is a key reason why nearly 20% of all North Carolina students don’t graduate from high school.

When parents are struggling to provide basic needs for their children, like food and shelter, it’s easy to understand why they may not be focused on what’s happening at their child’s school. Language barriers also isolate parents from their school communities.

Hands On Charlotte, along with several partner agencies, is working to eliminate these hurdles and engage more parents in their child’s education through a new initiative, the Coalition for Albemarle Road Elementary School (CARES). The coalition opens the school on two evenings each month and invites adults and children to come to the school for a free dinner. The meal is followed by educational clubs for students and life-skills classes for parents, including Healthy Living, English as a Second Language (ESL) and CMS Parent University. CARES also provides childcare for younger children.

CARES borrowed the Family Night concept from a similar program at McClintock Middle School. Since its inception in 2007, McClintock Partners in Education (McPIE) has seen a decrease in student absenteeism and higher scores on standardized tests. Like CARES, the efforts at McClintock are a collaborative effort involving a church, the neighborhood and the school’s faculty and staff.  

Educational achievement is only one measurement of success for Family Night. Kamille Pickens, one of three AmeriCorps VISTA members who help Hands On Charlotte manage the CARES initiative, said instructors have given parents some potentially life-changing advice: a mother who was able to get a scholarship from the Susan G. Komen Foundation to pay for a mammogram after finding a lump in her breast, and several ESL families who learned their rights when stopped by law enforcement, clearing up some common misconceptions.

Through these relationships and by establishing networks of support, volunteers can help children succeed in school and improve the lives of their families. It’s an investment of time and money. Grants from the City of Charlotte, the Teen Impact Fund and the Annie E. Casey Foundation help cover expenses, including meals, program materials and childcare providers. Donations from individuals and partner agencies will be crucial for sustaining the Family Night program.

Opportunities abound for volunteers who wish to bolster the work of Charlotte’s educators in other ways. Hands On Charlotte’s project calendar includes several tutoring and mentoring events every month, through partnerships with Central Piedmont Community College and several Mecklenburg non-profit agencies.

When our community shares its talent, time and resources, every child has the ability to succeed in school and establish a foundation for a successful life.

Mark Boone

Board Member and Communications Volunteer

Hands On Charlottte

Volunteer Networking

Spring signifies the winding down of the academic year.  As Charlotte -Mecklenburg students begin to prepare for spring break, teachers visit Classroom Central to pick up necessities for their students. 

This visit, I had the pleasure to assist Classroom Central with their bi-weekly teacher shopping experience. While this was not my first time volunteering at Classroom Central, it was a unique visit.

On this particular Thursday afternoon, Hands On Charlotte worked side by side with nine Wells Fargo employees. Classroom Central bustled with activity as the two organizations integrated in order to lend assistance to over 90 teachers. 

I enjoyed talking briefly to teachers as they checked out to learn about their day and their classrooms. Since this day was “slower” than my previous visit, I had the opportunity to network with Wells Fargo employees and HOC volunteers. Each volunteer had a unique story and what attracted him/her to Hands On Charlotte and or Classroom Central. It was a great opportunity to learn more about my community and yet another great volunteer experience to support education!

Leticia Foster


Hands On Charlotte

Visit Hands On Charlotte to learn more about volunteering with Classroom Central, as well as other ways to help Charlotte’s schools and educators.

Hands On Schools

“You can make a difference” is the statement Sara Perez, an AmeriCorps member who works to connect volunteers with the educational needs of Charlotte.

Sara became involved with low-resource schools upon completing her undergraduate degree and joined AmeriCorps in Rhode Island. She began working with a program called City Year, serving as a peer mentor and full-time tutor at a middle school in Providence, Rhode Island. The experience  helped to quench her long term passion of youth development and education.

Upon finishing her year with AmeriCorps in Rhode Island, Sarah decided to serve another year and moved to Charlotte, where she became involved with Hands on Charlotte. Sara knows Hands on Charlotte shares her passion for assisting in youth development and education and feels being a part of Hands on Charlotte provides her “a unique opportunity to inspire and mobilize others to get involved in and help make a difference in our schools.”

This fall will provide Sara an opportunity to begin a Hands On Charlotte program she helped design. Family Nights at Albemarle Elementary School will provide free hot meals, educational services and clubs for students and family members of the community. Sara believes this initiative will lead to more community involvement with the school, better attendance for students and a more positive course performance with classes. Community organizations and faith-based groups will be collaborating with Hands On Charlotte to help provide family focused educational programs at the school.

Beyond helping to form the Family Nights program, Sara is also involved with other HOC volunteering opportunities, including Homework Hounds.

Hands on Charlotte is extremely grateful for all Sara Perez contributes to the community and would like to thank her and recognize her contributions. Thanks to her and  HOC volunteers, the community and educational needs of low-resource schools are receiving assistance to nourish the minds and lives of Charlotte’s youth.

Ryan Kamp

Communications Volunteer

Hands On Charlotte

Editors note: This is the fifth of five entries during National Volunteer Week. If you appreciate the work of Hands On Charlotte to enhance education in our community, please signify that appreciation by donating to our spring fundraising campaign.

All Hands Corporate Volunteering

A child sitting in a Charlotte classroom right now could develop the next live-saving vaccine or technological breakthrough in communication.

That’s why employees at Time Warner Cable Media volunteer their time at Ashley Park PreK-8 School, encouraging students to take a greater interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

“Community is one of our core values,” said Ashley Davis, Vice President, Eastern Operations for TWCM. “We feel it is important to take an active role and effectively allocate our resources to make a positive impact in the communities we serve.”

Davis said the company’s leadership had been searching for opportunities to expand the company’s culture of service. But they weren’t sure how to design or manage a program that would get employee buy-in, while also incorporating a focus on increasing knowledge of STEM  subjects in schools. 

That’s where Hands On Charlotte came in.  HOC matched TWCM with Greater Enrichment Program, a provider of after-school programming for many CMS elementary schools in low-resource neighborhoods.  Then, HOC designed a year-long program that gave employees flexibility while providing fun science-related activities for children at Ashley Park.

Over the years, companies which partner with HOC have contributed millions of dollars’ worth of goods and services to our community via HOC’s All Hands corporate volunteering program. Corporate partners include The Home Depot, Neutrik USA, AltriaGoodrich and Premier Healthcare Alliance. They all use Hands On Charlotte to help design and manage employee volunteer projects and programs.  HOC provides access to the management experience and the community connections needed to channel the time and talents of their employees to produce maximum impact. 

HOC is a leader and a problem solver when it comes to effectively allocating human capital, which is why we can be such a great value-added resource for volunteers, whether they are individuals or members of corporate teams.  When you donate to support the mission of Hands On Charlotte, you strengthen our capacity to build creative projects and programs that get the job done.

 Editors note: This is the third of five entries during National Volunteer Week.

Classroom Central: Teacher Shopping Clerks

Today was a “full circle” moment for me at Classroom Central.

For the last six months, I’ve had the opportunity to stock shelves, sort and package items in the warehouse, and assist with drive thru pick-ups. With each task, I am able to interact with educators directly or indirectly. However regardless of the interaction level, my efforts maintain the same reach: to assist Mecklenburg county and surrounding area children.

Now back to my “full circle” moment. Today, I was able to volunteer on a new task which was teacher shopping. My role in the shopping experience was to assist with “checking-out” area teachers with their allotted classroom supplies.

I enjoyed the conversation with various teachers across subjects and grade levels.  In particular, I reunited with a teacher I assisted at Elon Home for Children with another Hands On Charlotte project. It was great chatting with her and hearing the school’s library progress from my prior visit two months ago.

Throughout the shopping experience, I was taken back by the number of “Thank You’s” received. My help at Classroom Central pales in comparison to educators’ dedication to today’s youth. So through this blog I not only want to capture my experience, but say “THANK YOU” Educators for your selfless efforts, dedication, and time!

Leticia Foster
Hands On Charlotte Volunteer
Marketing and Communications Committee Member

Teacher dedication becomes a motivator

[Editor’s Note: This blog post is the second in a series of  bi-weekly blog posts we’ll be featuring from some of our volunteers and volunteer leaders under our “Volunteer Experience” category. This week’s post is by Leticia Foster. You can take part in a project like Leticia’s and enjoy serving as well by signing up for our 9/11 Week of Service projects today! No orientation or background checks required for projects during this week (unless otherwise noted).]

Volunteers prepare kits for teachers at Classroom Central

I decided to challenge myself to a new project last week. Since relocating, I have volunteered with HandsOn Charlotte for more than a year now and wanted to expand my project horizon. With the upcoming school term around the corner, I felt that it only made sense to help those in the education industry.

HandsOn Charlotte provides volunteering opportunities at Classroom Central at least three times a month. Classroom Central distributes free school supplies to Charlotte-Mecklenburg and surrounding county teachers.  A volunteer can choose to either prepare for teachers’ visits — i.e. supply sorting, or assist teachers while they shop. I chose to assist with the warehouse. After a brief orientation and tour of the facility, we began to package booklets for the teachers to use as part of their fall curriculums. Even though this may seem like a small endeavor, we packed almost two pallets worth of materials.  This was a great help to Classroom Central given that just days prior they had more than 150 teachers visit their store to shop in one afternoon!

My biggest takeaway from this project was the interaction among volunteers. I was able to interact with individuals from various backgrounds that had a strong affinity to education and teacher dedication. In addition, I was amazed to learn that many teachers purchase necessary supplies for not only themselves but also students out of their own pockets!  This is a jaw-dropping fact to learn, given the most recent budget cuts; however, this is a testament to the teachers’ dedication to the community.  It is great to be reminded of that dedication our local teachers have for our community’s children.

Classroom Central is an excellent organization here in Charlotte to support. Even if time is of the essence to volunteer at the facility, one can always donate school/office supplies. Donations are accepted at your local Charlotte library as well as through the United States Postal Service. You can leave your donations for the mail courier to pick up and they will deliver to Classroom Central on Monday.

Leticia Foster
Classroom Central volunteer