When my friend Dr. Kelly Lyon asked me to consider joining the EAST Initiative Board of Directors in 2010, I didn’t even know what the acronym stood for. Kelly described EAST in terms that I found compelling: project learning, technology, entrepreneurship and community service. I own a business consulting firm, blog about entrepreneurship, am invested in dozens of tech firms, and I’ve been volunteering with nonprofits for many years. EAST seemed like a perfect fit and an organization to which I could contribute. Almost seven years after joining the board, and currently serving as its chair, I’d like to share a few thoughts with you about why I support EAST — and why the organization continues to surprise me.
I’ve supported EAST with my time and treasure for years and still find myself surprised and amazed at the organization’s accomplishments. The members of the board are smart and well connected, as one might expect, but I’ve never met board members who are more dedicated and involved than EAST board members. Second, the staff and facilitators are very talented and incredibly passionate about what they do. Third, EAST students are amazing!
Across nearly 240 EAST classrooms in Arkansas and in four other states, EAST students vary widely regarding their age, race, socioeconomic background, interests, IQs, and dreams. Yet, they all seem to have one thing in common. When we give them access to some cool technology and challenge them with problems that need solving in their school and community, they respond. No matter what the challenge, they rise to the occasion. With the guidance of facilitators who truly care, students acquire not only tech skills, but knowledge and experience that will help them be successful in life such as teamwork, leadership, project management, problem solving and compassion. The real final product of the EAST program, our EAST alumni, always amaze me.
Finally, the thing that has surprised me most about EAST is the impact that EAST programs and students have on their schools and communities. Sometimes the impact is quantifiable, such as when EAST students do things like redesigning drainage systems in flood prone areas or when students map the location of fire hydrants or dangerous structures thereby improving the fire protection and security in their town. Other impacts are less tangible but still incredibly valuable. EAST students have designed a 3D printed, flexible prosthetic for a classmate who was born with only one hand. Our students routinely build websites for local nonprofit organizations calling greater attention to their causes and helping them raise money. Several EAST classes have taken on projects to honor the veterans in their communities by producing video interviews of their war experiences and planning special Veteran’s Day events. Those impacts, my friends, are priceless.
Surprises are enjoyed more when they are shared with others, so I’d like to share my EAST with you. Many of us donate our hard earned money and volunteer our time to noble causes, but never get to see the impact of our charity. Please consider EAST for your next charitable investment. Since there is likely an EAST program in a school near you, you won’t have to wonder about the impact. You’ll get to see it first-hand. Just try it. Like me, I think you will be amazed and very pleasantly surprised again and again.
Editor’s Note: On April 6, 2017, donors can offer support to EAST through the Arkansas Gives campaign, which offers matching funds and bonus dollars added to those donations courtesy of the Arkansas Community Foundation. From 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. this Thursday, your donation can be augmented if offered through tinyurl.com/ArkansasGives. Alternatively, you can contribute at any time through supporteast.org.