“Future of Philanthropy” is a new department dedicated to showcasing the amazing work of young, aspiring– and inspiring— nonprofit leaders. Once every month or two, we will showcase a young person who is intent on making a difference in the world.
This first installment features Nicholas Midler, co-founder of The Family Connection Kindercamp, a six-week non-profit summer camp on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. The U.S. Virgin Islands has a serious education crisis – 83% of 3rd-11th graders failed National English standards and 93% didn’t meet expectations in math. In an effort to combat these troubling numbers, The Family Connection Kindercamp is expanding its teaching staff to provide individualized attention to students who are most at risk. Midler hopes to raise $45,000, increasing from the $31,000 budget allocated to the 2015 program in order to accommodate the growing faculty. Midler and his team are in the middle of their fundraising efforts now, focusing on local donors and businesses plus travel companies, and plan to complete this year’s fundraising efforts by late May or early June.
We had a chance to catch up with Milder, recently, and learn about him and his work:
TNP: I understand you had some learning challenges growing up. Did that have a role in your creating The Family Connection Kindercamp? And how so?
NM: My learning difficulties as a young child allow me to connect with the kids at the Kindercamp. I can look at one of the kids struggling with the alphabet or number and see myself in them. When I first started school I was surrounded by this fabulous support network of caring teachers, engaged parents, and many others. Every night my dad would sit down and read to me for half an hour. Every weekend my mother would sit with me as I sounded out words in picture books.
It was this support, and time invested in me that allowed me to succeed. When I see the kids at the program struggling with the same words I tripped over a decade earlier I know the only thing separating us is the support we received. That is why I’m convinced the problem of early-childhood education is solvable. All these kids need to succeed is a strong support network.
TNP: I’d like to congratulate you on being a young person who is so concerned with the needs of others that you decided to start a nonprofit organization! Has your youth been more of a positive or negative in getting your organization’s word out?
NM: I have to be conscious of my youth when running the camp. Many of the people I work with are incredibly experienced and talented at what they do. The teachers at the camp are incredibly committed to the students and often stay behind in the classroom for hours prepping for tomorrow.
When I’m talking with teachers and administrators I’m always cognizant of their own experiences and wealth of knowledge. When I’m introducing a new teaching method or learning style I’m always careful to empower, not overpower, the opinions of the teachers. They are fantastic at adapting and implementing new ideas in the classroom given the opportunity and leeway to do so.
TNP: What will “success” look like to you?
NM: Success takes two forms at the camp. The first type of success is seeing an individual child succeed. It is truly amazing the changes that the six week Kindercamp can inspire in a child. There was one child at the camp who barely spoke a word during the first few days. His parents were native Creole speakers, and his language skills were far below his peers. At the beginning of the camp this child often withdrew into a corner of the room and communicated through pointing and grabbing. By the end of the camp he was an active member of the classroom who answered questions during circle time, and spoke up in activities. It is hard to quantify the change that occurred over the six week program, but this kid was now well-prepared to begin kindergarten in the fall.
Success will also be scaling the camp. We have been able to achieve great results at our current size, and bringing this success to more children would be absolutely fantastic. Over the past several years we’ve fine-tuned our model for the camp while giving over 100 low-testing kids a comprehensive jump-start into kindergarten. We can provide this high quality program, taught by accredited public school teachers, for $95 per week per child. Turning around test scores and poor academic performances by bringing our research based curriculum to even more kids would be success.
TNP: You have our attention and we’d love to share your perspective: What would you like to share with people who work at and love nonprofits?
NM: The work of a nonprofit is never finished! Education in particular offers the opportunity to always be improving. We are never quite done tweaking our approach at the Kindercamp. Whether this means shifting the camp’s day back by an hour to align with parent’s work schedules, or by breaking the classroom up into five instead of seven activity stations to facilitate greater peer-to-peer interaction, we are always testing new methods.
I’d also like to emphasize the importance of a support network in education. In my experience at the camp, kids learn best when they have a whole support network rallying around them. I think non-profits work best when they engage and inspire the community around their cause.
TNP: What would you like people to think of when they hear the name The Family Connection Kindercamp?
NM: I would like people to associate the Kindercamp with evidence-based approaches. Whether this means adapting a research-based curriculum to the Virgin Islands classroom, or the constant work we do to try and improve the camp, the Kindercamp is always working to improve.
About Family Connection Kindercamp
The Family Connection Kindercamp is a registered 501(c)(3) organization that is operated and funded through a public-private partnership model. The program uses research-based, child-led curriculum to provide its students with a leg-up into kindergarten with an eye towards future academic success. By intervening early, the camp hopes to pave a smooth and successful academic future for all of its enrollees.