I am personally very vested in Prism Education Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas (you’ll soon see why). Please watch this brief video (click the link) about Prism and then read my comments below.
Prism actually started from a couple of mothers’ desire to provide their children a solid education with an equally strong emphasis on values and the development of the whole person.
These two mothers, Misty and Krisite, spent hours talking about “the ideal school.” They even debated about the possibility of collaborating together to create a world-class “homeschool” for their children, but that couldn’t work for a couple of reasons: 1) they both had jobs, and 2) it just felt too selfish; they knew of other children who needed the same things their own children needed.
They continued talking, though, and their talks began to pull in others who had similar ideals. The dream expanded from “a small local school” to a template—a model school—that could be exported and replicated around the world. As the group of ‘believers’ grew, they all began to see that their dream could actually become a reality.
By faith, they formed a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, chose a Board of Directors and Misty took the reins as leader of the project.
The Prism team was long on inspiration and creativity, but as with many great causes, they were short on funds. There were no financial backers. In fact, their first bank statement showed a whopping balance of $1.18 (Woohoo! They were operating in the black)! Clearly, if Prism was going to get off the ground, it was going to do so with hard work and some creative financing.
By “happenstance,” Misty drove by an empty building one day and felt compelled to track down the owner and see how much the rent would be. Turned out, the building was owned by the city, and after some discussion, it was agreed that the city would rent the building to Prism for a token $1/year—provided that at least 51% of the children who were served fell within the lower income levels. This, of course, was not a problem, as one of the core values of Prism is that children of all economic backgrounds have access. Scholarships were offered based on family income levels.
This “free” building was exactly the kind of break Prism had been looking for! Prism opened its doors almost immediately as a preschool and an after school program in January of 2012. Misty continued to work her “other job” (which, thankfully, offered her a lot of flexibility) while writing grants, recruiting staff and sharing the dream with others. As word got out about the new preschool and the after-school program, more parents began to enroll their little ones. Some were able to pay, others were not.
Meanwhile, In My Basement…
During this same period of time, I was homeschooling the first two school-aged children in my home office (I mentioned this in A Look Back). We playfully referred to my school as Prism Satellite School. We all knew these two children were “the seed” for what was to come.
Every day at 3:00 p.m., I would shut my little school down and deliver my two students to the Prism Education after-school program. Almost daily, it seemed, the numbers were increasing—both in children and in the necessary personnel. And every morning, I would listen to my two students enthusiastically recount the projects they were working on in the after school program. It was clearly far more than a baby sitting service for working parents.
Misty was able to find grants and programs that helped offset the costs of running Prism. In addition, many of the staff worked for free—for they believed in the vision. Misty herself worked for a year without a salary—even though she was putting in far more than 40 hours a week!
After getting their feet wet that first semester with the preschool and the after-school programs, Prism launched a full-fledged private school in September of 2012 (and thus, my little satellite school dissolved into Prism Education Center, and I entered teaching retirement), starting out with 45 children from ages 2 to 12, serving kindergarten through 7th grade.
Word from happy parents and transformed children spread quickly. Prism almost immediately acquired a waiting list. And then, something incredible happened. The city offered another old, empty building to the school so long as the same criteria was met—at least half the children served be from lower-income families. Thus, in September of 2013, Prism opened two campuses with 136 children from ages 1 to 13, and added the eighth grade.
The ‘powers that be’ in the local government, liking what they were seeing at Prism, offered yet another facility, an old head start building that had closed down due to government funding cut-backs. Could Prism use that building? Absolutely! They had a significant wait list for preschool children under the age of 5.
Does all this seem too good to be true? The part about transformed children and pleased parents is true. I’ve seen it firsthand. And the part about the three free buildings is true (well, not entirely free; they were $1 a year). But then, in mid-2014, Prism got a blow—actually, two blows one right after the other.
First, one of the “free” buildings had been sold and Prism was given notice of the need to vacate within a year. Shortly thereafter, Prism was notified that the city was going to tear down the second building. Prism must vacate that building by 2016.
As a real estate agent, I was part of the team charged with finding other facilities in which to school these children. We got on the ball and started searching for a new building, preferably one that could accommodate all three campuses. Other than the size (and, of course, the price), the location was a determining factor in the considerations. It had to be in the part of town that would best serve those families with the greatest needs. We looked…but we did not find.
Though no building was found, we did discover a beautiful 10-acre piece of property on which to build. It would make a beautiful green campus with lots of trees and areas for gardening projects. It is off the beaten path, so it presents a country setting, though it is well within the city limits (and is precisely in the area of town that will best serve the Prism target). An offer was made (with guarantors), it was accepted, and now Prism awaits the closing date on that property.
And then a building will have to be built. Probably costing in excess of $1 million.
“Feel Good” Stories
We’ve all read “feel-good” stories about people and/or organizations who are making a difference in their world, not because of what they get out of it, but because they wholeheartedly believe in the cause. Such individuals and organizations struggle to make ends meet, they endure indifference—even opposition from naysayers—lack of appreciation and the constant stress of lack of funds. But they persevere for “the cause,” selflessly serving for the good of others. And the “feel good” part of the story is that somewhere along the way, word somehow gets out to the masses what these groups are doing, and suddenly, resource begins to flow their way—from people in other countries, from children, from celebrities, from people with similar values, from the rich, and from the poor!
This blog post is my tiny contribution at trying to get the word out about an organization that is sacrificially serving the needs of others. I can personally vouch for the character of those in charge of Prism Education Center. I can personally vouch for the difference “the Prism way” makes in kids’ lives. I’m thinking if my readers knew about the need, and more importantly, about the positive impact that Prism has already made with so little funds, they would be willing to contribute something to the building fund which must begin immediately after closing on the land purchase (already, we are behind schedule). I am thinking we could make Prism a “feel good” story!
As I have mentioned throughout this post, Prism has operated from a position and spirit of sacrifice from day one. No one is in it for the money! The staff works for minimal wages. Public school teachers have left their secure jobs and taken over a 50% decrease in salary to help build a model school that can be “exported” around the world. As the school director, Misty takes a small salary, even less than many on her staff. There have been no financial backers, no people of means picking up any part of the bill.
What’s In It For You?
Allow me to suggest four good reasons to contribute to the Prism building fund:
1. Because you won’t receive any benefit or personal advantage for doing so. Yes, you read that right. I believe that the majority of my readers have giving hearts and a desire to be altruistic, even if they only have limited means. Isn’t altruism giving without receiving anything in return?
2. Because the less-fortunate will be served by your gift. Not all the students at Prism are in the lower income brackets, but over half of them are. In fact, over 25% of them live in families of 4 making less than $18,000/year.
3. Because your gift will serve the “servers” as well. Those who are serving at personal sacrifice will feel your support; you will bolster them!
4. Because Prism is much more than a local school in a small city. It is being built as a model, a template, for others to replicate in the days to come. Just as my two little homeschool students were the seed for Prism Education Center, so Prism is a seed for similar schools around the world (you will note in the video that Misty refers to it as a “model”).
Will you consider giving? Every little bit will help, but if 1000 people would contribute $100, that would be $100,000—a good dent in the finances that are needed immediately to start the project. Click here to go straight to the page where you can make your donation. Any gift will be appreciated!
One More Thing
Another way that you can help is by spreading the word about this worthy organization and its great need. Whoever you are, wherever you live, would you consider sharing this video (and this blog post) on your social media sites? Do you know a corporation that might be willing to give a sizable donation to an organization like Prism? Do you think we could make Prism Education Center one of those “feel good” stories?
I said you’d soon see why I am personally vested in Prism, but if it’s not already apparent, let me enlighten you. Misty is my daughter. Some of the transformed children are my own grandchildren and other children that I love. And because I sowed my time and energy into the “satellite school” in the very beginning, I feel a great sense of “ownership.”