"Giving is not just about making a donation. It's about making a difference." -Kathy Calvin, CEO, United Nations Foundation
"Given it was a community that ultimately changed the course of my life, I feel it is necessary to help other communities as much as I can."
In 2015, I founded the Development Academy at Roosevelt High School in San Antonio. The organization meets twice per week before school hours to discuss leadership, self-empowerment, and many other diverse attributes related to young teen and adult success.
The group studied The Arbinger Institute's book The Anatomy of Peace as a foundation for all discussion. All books were generously donated to the Development Academy by the institute, free of all charge.
"The Development Academy has been a fantastic opportunity. It has taught me to evaluate my opinions and look at all sides of an argument. It has given me the desire to have quality discussions. [Ali] is an excellent facilitator, and is adept at creating discussion and pushing us to develop our own ideas and beliefs."
Teen Outreach Program (TOP)
In conjunction with the YMCA and Healthy Futures of Texas, I serve as an after-school mentor for 12-17 year old students. Weekly meetings consist of goal-setting, decision-making, and other topics as they pertain to helping the at-risk student find success in and out of the classroom. The valuable discussion with those involved has provided further insight into the mind of middle school and high school students. These relationships serve as a constant reminder that, though work still needs to be done, there is great hope for the future.
Whether it is his summer-long program, or a meeting over lunch, I now look for mentoring opportunities in many different places.
One person in particular that stands out to me is Caden Pickett. Early in Caden's life, doctors found a tumor on his brain. Growing up, he was constantly in and out of the hospital for emergency surgeries and checkups. To date, Caden has endured more than 70 brain surgeries. His story is a fascinating one of overcoming incredible odds stacked against him, and coming out of it with a positive attitude and head held high.
I spent one summer working with Caden on goal-setting, ownership, service, and many other attributes. Caden shared the following about his experience:
"Ali helped me learn how to interact with the people I needed to. Skills that I never had, I learned from him. He helped me find myself; he made me feel like I belong."
Caden may claim that I helped him, but the benefit wasn't one-way. Caden taught me the value of perseverance, taking things one step at a time, and how to smile through the pain. An incredible example of what a fighter looks like, one could argue about who really helped who.