Education — May 17, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Bound Together gives Pontiac students confidence and hope


Good people are fighting every day for Michigan’s students. This organization is among them.

Just when you begin to despair over the seemingly endless battles public education is facing in Michigan, you find a reason to feel optimistic.

In Pontiac, one of the Michigan school districts that’s struggling the most, an organization called Bound Together is providing an environment where children in grades 1 through 6 can come to learn, to express themselves and to gain confidence that can lead to a better future.

Established in 1994, Bound Together is an independent after-school program that offers tutoring in math, reading and reading comprehension three days a week, followed by a nutritious meal. Every other week, there’s also a one-day art group, filling a void left when the Pontiac schools cut their arts and music programs. There are currently 21 children enrolled in Bound Together

Executive Director Jane Porter, a soft-spoken yet passionate advocate for these children, describes what she considers the key mission of Bound Together.

It’s a multifaceted place where people are invested in what these children think and what they do. Children will often sit down next to me and start talking. We listen to them, and they know their life is valued.

Bound Together wants to help nurture these children so they can achieve academic excellence and believe in their ability to succeed. Porter says she gets goosebumps every time a child grins widely after being praised for working hard at his or her studies.

This kind of encouragement may seem like a small gesture, but it can mean everything to some of these children. Many are in single-parent homes with well-meaning but busy parents or aren’t getting the positive feedback they need at school. Porter shared the story of one fourth-grader who came in after school one day, upset that when she struggled to read out loud in class her teacher made her sit on the floor instead of in her chair.

Her tutor here asked, ‘How did that make you feel?’ and the little girl replied, ‘It just makes me want to stay home and have babies like my mama.’ For many of these children, that’s the point of least resistance. They think, ‘I can’t do the reading well and I see what my mom does so I’ll do that.’ But our tutor promised the little girl they’d work on her reading skills and assured her she could do well.

Bound Together runs on a ridiculously lean operating budget, and relies heavily on the contributions of volunteers like the tutors. They also partner with other community groups and receive donations, often from some unexpected sources.

Last Christmas, a motorcycle club in Pontiac donated a winter coat, boots and a gift to every single child. Porter says the children and their families were thrilled.

Here were the club members in their leather jackets and chains — all the kids wanted their pictures taken with them. The parents were so grateful for these gifts. We have three children here being raised by their grandmother, and she’s told us she couldn’t do it without the help of Bound Together.

Even though the program is closed over the summer, Bound Together is partnering with Christ Church Cranbrook and the Pontiac Creative Arts Center to give the children summer camp opportunities.

Porter is making plans for the upcoming school year, applying for grants and seeking more volunteer tutors. There’s no experience required; just a background check, an online training course, and a willingness to help children with their homework.

There’s nothing like the feeling of knowing you’ve really helped one of these children. These kids really want to be here — we’re like a second family to them. They know that even when they’re having a bad day, tomorrow will be better and we’ll still be here for them.

You can learn more here about Bound Together and opportunities to help, including volunteering.

[Photos courtesy of Bound Together]