Hope for Hope
By Hannah Gray and Hastings Moffitt (Chapel Hill, USA)
“I fell in love with it - no one was there when I visited, but it was still so alive with drawings and posters and toys.” Wynn Burrus, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, reflects on the first time she visited Hope Charter Leadership Academy (HCLA) in her hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina.
Wynn was first introduced to Hope Charter Leadership Academy when her mother, Beth Burrus, took on a new role as their community outreach director. The tuition free elementary school welcomes students with high leadership potential to apply for enrollment. With the goal of providing low-income students with the inspiration they need to work hard so they can attend college, HCLA’s student-centered curriculum focuses on creating future leaders. Wynn was inspired by the daily stories her mom shared, leading her to create a way in which she and other college students could connect with the students at the elementary school.
With a passionate principle and incredibly patient teachers, the atmosphere captivated Wynn. Unfortunately, this was not an atmosphere that would be easily accessible on a weekly basis once Wynn went off to college at UNC. The 45-minute one-way commute to Raleigh from Chapel Hill did not fit into her busy and rigorous academic schedule filled with various commitments. But that did not stop Wynn in the slightest; she persisted and created a way to be connected with these students despite the geographical separation, through the creation of a pen pal program.
Wynn facilitated a pen pal program between HCLA and the Beta Chi chapter of Kappa Delta at UNC, the sorority that she is a member of on campus. Upon hearing about the program, both groups were extremely responsive to the idea. Wynn describes Clarissa Fleming, the principle of HCLA, as being “over the moon” when Wynn first brought the idea to her. Similarly, Kappa Delta’s executive council instantly agreed to participate and immediately took steps to initiate the program. The official name, “Hope for Hope,” was given to the program once it was in motion and the first letters were sent out during the spring of 2017.
In the program’s first semester, some college student pals were paired with more than one elementary student because so many students at HCLA wanted to participate. But in its second semester, the program’s infectious joy spread and there were more college pals eager to participate than HCLA students available. With almost 80 pen pal pairs currently, there is certainly momentum for expansion within the program.
Pen pals send each other letters monthly or as often as Wynn can deliver the letters back and forth herself. The letters have quickly become the simple things in the students’ lives that seem to make their day. There is no limit to what they can talk about with their pen pal, but most conversation topics are there to inspire them to continue to do well in school so that one day they can attend a college or university too. The girls from UNC act as college role models and friends that the HCLA students can look up to and strive to be like.
The mission of “Hope for Hope” goes hand in hand with the HCLA’s mission, both striving to foster leadership skills and empower the elementary students to be the best they can possibly be. HCLA’s mission, and the partnership created by Wynn’s desire to make a difference, together work towards a common goal: sending the students of HCLA to college.
Wynn is continuing to expand the program in honor of her grandmother, who suddenly passed away in a tragic car accident leaving the Burrus’ house while traveling home to Winston Salem, North Carolina in early September. With over 25 years of experience in an afterschool care program, Wynn describes her grandmother as always “loving children and investing in them.” Starting in the fall of 2017, “Hope for Hope” is continuing Wynn’s grandmother’s legacy.
The future is bright for “Hope for Hope” and for the HCLA students who benefit from it. Wynn has big plans in mind for the upcoming semesters to continue developing “Hope for Hope” in various ways. She sees the next step as holding an annual fundraiser to help raise money for the HCLA, which is operated entirely off of community donations. Wynn would also love to make time to get the pen pal partners together in person and have some of the college role models travel to HCLA and assist the teachers for a day.
Wynn Burrus’ simple thought of old-fashioned hand written letters has created smiles on many faces over the last several months and will continue to do so in the future.