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With a hope and a dream – Meet Valerie (24/52.2)

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

Meet Valerie:

©Amy Boyle Photography 2020

In her own words-

“For many years, I worked as a school social worker on the south side of Chicago. The job wasn’t easy, but I worked with so many amazing students and I absolutely loved it.

However, I quickly saw that there were so many factors outside of school that impeded my students’ ability to succeed in school. I saw far too many students struggling with challenges that no child should ever have to endure such as homelessness, poverty, violence, and abuse/neglect. I was one social worker to over 1,000 students on my caseload, and I knew that without more support, the majority of these students would fall through the cracks.

I had an idea for what I thought was the obvious solution: why don’t we build a boarding school? A boarding school could provide an exceptional education in a safe, nurturing, 24/7 environment. But who the heck knows how to go about doing that? I put the idea aside, assuming that one day – perhaps when I was retired, and had extra money and time on my hands – I would revisit the idea.

After tabling the idea for many years, one summer I headed to Portland to attend a conference. At the conference, an entrepreneur named Michael Hyatt stepped onto the stage and told us that out of 1,000 people in the audience, the mortality tables say that 1 of us will die in the next 30 days. This hit me like a brick wall and in that moment, I had a powerful realization: I realized that although I had no idea how to do it, it occurred to me that nobody had the tools or path – not the mayor, not President Obama, not even Oprah. There was no roadmap, so all anybody could do would be to pull together the right resources and the right people.

Somehow, my dream seemed “figure-outable” not despite it because so large, but because of how audacious it was, it leveled the playing field. If Oprah wouldn’t know how to do it, I was no worse off than Oprah! I vowed to go home and make it happen.

©Amy Boyle Photography 2020

There simply would never be a time, and the kids of Chicago needed it to happen now. I flew home from the conference and quit my job, and decided to take on building Ryan Banks Academy named after a former student who was shot and killed at the age of 12.

©Amy Boyle Photography 2020

But making the decision to start was the easy part – what came next was even harder. Not only did I not know how to build a school, but I decided to do so during the most volatile economic and political climate this country has seen in a long time. And yet somehow, four years later we have defied the odds and Ryan Banks Academy opened our doors in Fall 2018 as a day school and we are working toward becoming a boarding school as the next step.”

*** Please follow along on instagram as well and learn more about Valerie. 52 Phenomenal Women is now in its second year! This is week 24 of 52.

Participants in this project will be supporting the efforts of Dress for Success Worldwide – Central. We are all stronger together and it is my sincere hope that we will be inspired by each other’s stories. Now is the time to celebrate as well as encourage one another. Tell your story!***

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