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Across the country, people are working hard to end loneliness, isolation and to support those not given a fair shake at school or on Main Street. There are remarkable Americans who say they’re repairing some of the tears in society. They belong to a group called “Weavers,” who are trying to put trust, empathy, connectedness and community well-being at the center of American life.
We sat down with four of them at the Aspen Ideas Festival in June to talk about their stories and their work.
Education was a priority in Alejandro Gibes de Gac’s life before he could read or write. His parents immigrated to the United States in search of educational opportunities for their children. Even though money was tight, his parents encouraged them to be ambitious. Gibes de Gac began to understand the power parents have in inspiring their children to learn.
Gibes de Gac grew up, went to college and began teaching first grade in northern Philadelphia. He recognized the hunger for education among his students and their parents. But the school system, he says, treated low-income parents as liabilities rather than partners. Gibes de Gac wanted to change that.
He founded the Springboard Collaborative, an organization that provides products and services to help young students become better readers. They train school officials to be better managers, teachers to be more engaged with families and parents to become teachers in their homes.
Sarah Hemminger’s story begins when she was a child and her father criticized the local pastor for misusing money. The pastor made sure that the community isolated the family. Sarah says other children from the church would not speak to her. Her cousins, aunts and uncles would not speak to her. The isolation had a profound effect on her.
She eventually started a Ph.D. program in biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, which, she says, only made her feel more lonely. One day, she drove by a high school and thought there must kids in the education system who were feeling the same way.
She co-founded Thread. The organization works with underperforming high school students who face significant challenges outside of the classroom.
Dylan Tête came back from serving in Iraq and moved his family to New Orleans just three months before Hurricane Katrina hit. He enrolled in a “Work as Therapy” program, but it wasn’t working. He says he felt “alone, isolated and cut off from everyone.”
After watching his military friends come back from overseas with traumatic brain injuries, Tête knew they were dealing with many of the same problems that he was. He began traveling around the country, looking for solutions. Eventually he visited a group home where veterans were living together. He thought that he could do better.
Tête founded Bastion Community of Resilience in 2016. It’s a neighborhood for veterans and their families that includes a built-in support system. His team put 58 homes and a wellness center on 5.5 acres in Louisiana. Tête also invited civilian neighbors to come live in the community and become part of the care team alongside the professional staff.
Asiaha Butler is the president of the Resident Association of Greater Englewood, or R.A.G.E., in Chicago. Thirty years of systemic racism, white flight, school loss and demolition have left a cloud over the Chicago neighborhood, Butler says. It’s a cloud she’s lived in since she bought her home in 2002. Bullets flew on her block. Bullets flew through her house. She thought about moving away, both for her sake and her daughter’s.
Instead, she became a volunteer in her community. She says she knew she could add value but didn’t know how. Eventually she met other like-minded people bent on doing something.
This led to the establishment of R.A.G.E., which says its mission is to “build relationships with fellow residents, Englewood’s public officials, business owners and organizations.”
How do these Weavers get people to trust them? How do Weavers deal with the psychological stress of those they’re helping? What do they need to take their work to the next level? We explore these questions.
Produced by Rupert Allman and Paige Osburn.
- Alejandro Gibes de Gac Is working to close the literacy gap by closing the gap between home and school. He is the founder of Springboard Collaborative – which he started in 20-11. Alejandro immigrated with his family to the United States when he was seven.
- Sarah Hemminger Is the founder of a group called Thread – a grassroots organization that's turning around life chances for students who need more support to make it through high school
- Asiaha Butler Is working to turn around the perceptions and possibilities for those living in one of the most dangerous parts of Chicago. She the president of the Resident Association of Greater Englewood – known locally as R.A.G.E
- Dylan Tête Is a West Point graduate, after a combat tour in Iraq – he helped rebuild the homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. He now runs a housing community called the Bastion of Community Resilience – that organization that specifically helps vets & their families.
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