We’re growing…and the end isn’t near!

As the students walked across the stage, at the Commencement Ceremony in June 2014, all I could think about was “We did it again…We helped one more class along their way towards their dreams of graduating college!” And, it wasn’t easy, for the students or the faculty and staff. Yet, as I look back, it certainly was a labor of love.

Fast forward to January 2015 and we’re half way there to getting another class through. Yet, this time it’s different, we have larger goals in the Mission Advancement Office: $2.4M and planting seeds for future support. You see, we now know we can’t keep raising funds for the current year without laying a foundation for the future of fundraising at Verb. What does that mean? It means increasing Development staff and adding more opportunities for supporters to donate to Verb. So, in August 2014, we hired a new Development Assistant, Ms. Michelle Cordova, to help us expand our reach. Ms. Cordova has more than six years of experience in fund development working for such organizations as STOP CANCER. She is charge of one of the most important programs, Adopt-A-Student Program, as well as several other newer programs: Adopt-A-Teacher and our Planned Giving program cultivation. We are thrilled to have Ms. Cordova.

With the addition of Ms. Cordova, Ms. Stephanie Andrade, Development Associate, is freed up to do more higher-level development such as meeting with donors and writing grants. Ms. Andrade has been at Verb for over 13 years and is in charge of two very large programs, the Annual Mardi Gras Awards Dinner, which generated over $450K last year, and our Foundations program, which should generate $1.1M this year. With her institutional knowledge and fundraising acumen, she has proved herself invaluable to the Mission Advancement team.

Our big push for the second half of 2014/15 is the Mardi Gras event, Planned Giving, and our Adopt-A-Teacher Program. This year’s Mardi Gras will be held at the Biltmore in Downtown LA, where we are honoring Edison International and the Class of 2015. Since 2006, Edison has been a part of Verb’s Corporate Work Study Program, as well as showing support of our mission far beyond what has been asked of them. And, as you know, we honor the Class of 2015 because all that they have done to reach for their dreams of a college education. Planned Giving is important to the future of Verb because it allows donors to support the school in a significant way—through bequests, will, trusts, etc. These types of gifts often help on into the future. Our Adopt-A-Teacher Program, where we allow donors to support a specific teacher and their class for a year, helps connect supporters to what is actually happening in the classroom.

…And, after the Class of 2015, we, in Mission Advancement, will sigh in relief of a job well done, yet we will continue to try to expand our tools even further to raise even more support for resources for our students’ futures. Stay tuned…

Verb Students Will NOT Be Eaten by Morlocks!

    In the 1960 film adaptation of the H.G. Wells’s “The Time Machine” a man from Victorian England travels to the distant future where he discovers the desiccated remains of books amongst the ashen ruins of a long-forgotten library. The child-like denizens of this seemingly idyllic future society, called the Eloi, live care-free lives of hedonism, unencumbered by the harrowing self-reflection that is often the beautifully-tragic byproduct of literacy. However, beneath this veritable future Eden, there dwells a race of monstrous creatures called the Morlocks who use the ignorant, blissful, surface dwellers as cattle — literally; they eat them. Perhaps it would be premature to start battening down the hatches to defend against the next Morlock attack; but one need only follow the shockingly ignorant and grammatically impaired comments on any given youtube video to feel that the future of literacy and critical thinking is imperiled. Wells’s not- so- subtle symbolism aside, as an English teacher it can be tempting to view this generation as becoming more and more like the Eloi and, consequently, more opportune prey for the corporate, government, and infotainment Morlocks of the world. But are they? Is our current crop of youngsters really hurdling blissfully and ignorantly towards a bookless, illiterate future? The answer, thankfully, is resoundingly no!

    What I have discovered about these so-call digital-natives is that, far from being reading averse, they are actually consuming more written information, ideas, and stories than probably any generation prior. The profusion of mediums through which students consume writing, much of it digital, may seem to be a precursor to Wells’s charred, forgotten libraries; however, a library is just a building – a sagacious and venerable building to be sure – but its demise would be no more an indicator of waning literacy than the loss of a church to a hurricane signifying the loss of God’s presence. Perhaps the real concern is one of quality over quantity. Sure, students might be reading more, but if that reading is dominated by the derivative fan-fiction of a gregarious dilatant (“50 Shades of Grey “ anyone) , or the paint-by-numbers adventure of yet another teen protagonist in a cliché dominated dystopian future, then it may be a case of them simply becoming a more literate version of the Eloi. Don’t misunderstand me, I love fun trash just as much as my younger millennial compatriots. But our mission in the English department has to be to provide students with thought-provoking, world-challenging literature that enlightens as well as entertains.

    From the horrific and inhuman death camps of Nazi Germany presented in Elie Wiesel’s “Night” to the mean streets of a segregated Chicago in Richard Wright’s “Native Son”, Verb students are engaging literature that presents complex characters in difficult situations. The conversations that I have been a part of concerning those titles, as well as many others, reassures me that our digital-natives are not destined to be either Eloi or Morlock, but rather true exemplars of a grad at grad. Importantly, it’s not just the anointed titles of the so-called cannon that are being thoroughly analyzed and discussed on an advanced level, but the contemporary work of tomorrow’s cannon.

    Being open to the inclusion of great writing from an increasingly diverse, dynamic, and digitally-based pool of writers is the key to making reading relevant and meaningful to our students. I am pleased to report that the English department has taken great strides in this direction as each teacher looks for new and innovative ways to reconcile the analogue and digital domains of today’s literary landscape. The sheer quantity of stuff out there is mindboggling and with so much drivel cluttering up the interwebs it can seem as though the age of the Morlocks is nigh. However, each day I am encouraged and emboldened by what I see and hear when students connect with great stories old and new.

Growing in Faith & Brotherhood

The Campus Ministry team is always trying to improve the opportunities we offer our students to grow spiritually, personally, and in brotherhood with one another. As we looked at our retreat program, we saw places that needed improvement, so we began to make some changes this year. The biggest improvements can be seen in our junior and senior retreats. Our senior Kairos retreat moved from a three-day retreat in Sierra Madre to a four-day retreat in Running Springs, up near Big Bear. There is something special about seeing our students off campus, especially in such a beautiful setting. A large number of them woke up early in the morning to go for a run in the woods with a couple teachers. During the breaks, some did indoor wall climbing, while others crossed the field on the zip line, while still others played soccer, football, or basketball. Even more remarkable, though, than watching the students thoroughly enjoy their free time, was watching the student leaders open up, sharing their life stories with their classmates, as well as being witness to students as they have emotional and spiritual breakthroughs. Kairos reminds us adults why we do what we do each day.

At the end of next month, we get to go up near Big Bear again; this time to Angelus Oaks for our first overnight retreat with the junior class. We are very excited to be able to take our students out of the “ordinary” for a sort of spiritual reboot. Though I can’t give an evaluation yet, as we have yet to make the retreat, I can tell you that I have high hopes and expectations for even further growth in relationship with God and with one another than we have seen in previous years. There is something special about going up a mountain and having a “mountain-top” spiritual experience. The challenge, though, is holding onto that growth and nurturing it, even after coming back down the mountain. Luckily, our boys are always up for a challenge!