I’d guess most suburban moms who delivered coats to an inner city school would not respond as Pam Good did. If I were such a mom, I’d drive away thinking how lucky my sons were to have a new coat each winter (okay, Andy wore David’s hand-me-downs). And will I make it to David’s hockey game on time? And what shall I fix for dinner?
Not Pam Good.
Pam’s sons Adam and Geoff attended Eastover Elementary in Bloomfield Hills. In 1999, the school mounted a coat drive. Then a full time mom and member of the PTO, Pam dropped off the coats at Detroit’s Herman Rogers Academy (K-12). After, she paused inside the front door and shook her head, reflecting on what she’d seen. Students couldn’t go outside during recess; it was too dangerous. They didn’t have music classes or art.
They need help, she thought.
That night, in her comfortable tri-level home on an acre of land in Bloomfield Hills, Pam prayed about the experience. She vowed, “I’ll do more.”
A single mom, Pam says, “My eyes were opened to the vast differences in public education. When you see people suffering and you want to help, Heaven hears.” Pam shared her thoughts with next door neighbor Joanne Wagerson. Joanne volunteered to support Pam in whatever she decided. Pam contacted Herman Rogers principal Marcella Verdun. Soon Pam, Joanne and other friends were conducting reading tutoring and art enrichment at the school.
Pam’s first year was an eye opener. “Being in a school all day every day, I realized these kids were illiterate. We’ve learned that by 5th grade, kids know they can’t read and have internalized that as feeling stupid.”
The activities of Pam and her band of merry moms led to incorporating Beyond Basics as a non-profit agency in 2002. Pam remains president and executive director. “We don’t try to change the system,” Pam says. “We just help children. When you get kids reading, you save lives.”
Today Beyond Basics runs programs in 6 schools (elementary and high; 5 in Detroit, 1 in Pontiac). A staff of 45, 3000+ volunteers, hundreds of sponsors and several dedicated school principals run programs including art enrichment and 1-on-1 reading tutoring. Publishing centers established in each school enable students to become authors. Their manuscripts are typed and edited and published as hard cover books.
Most inner city students, including high school graduates, have a 4th grade reading level, Pam says. 6 weeks of Beyond Basics coaching, during school, brings a dedicated student up to reading proficiency. “It’s a miracle,” Pam says. A 7th grade reading level is considered “proficiently literate.” Beyond that, she says, “a lot depends on someone’s vocabulary, life experience and motivation.”
In 2004, during my struggle with cancer, Pam and I met. Insisting raw food was good for my health, she kept bringing over dishes for me to try. Though I was grateful for her care and friendship, some of those dishes tasted like dirty socks. David introduced us. He met Pam when she was just starting her enrichment activities. Our family funded Pam’s first year. David remains on the Beyond Basics board. He and Burton have both taught classes in Detroit schools through Beyond Basics. (The classroom in which Burton taught had a broken window. When the school failed to fix it, Burton had Farbman Group send over someone to replace the window. The principal discovered what Burton had done and moved him to a classroom with another broken window. She was one smart principal.)
“Being functionally illiterate,” Pam says, “means people can’t get a decent job, are doomed to poverty and exist on the fringe. It’s the real reason people in Baltimore are oppressed,” she says, referring to the recent unrest there.
By the end of this school year, Beyond Basics will have worked with 60,000 kids, including 1-on-1 tutoring of 1,000. They have published over 80,000 books. They also conduct an annual coat drive and many field trips. The GM Tech Center just collected and donated 8,000 books to students Beyond Basic reaches. Mercedes Benz Financial Services sponsors a school every year. A child can be sponsored for $1 a day. To volunteer, donate or learn more, go to www.beyondbasics.org.
Where does Pam’s passion come from? “I see Detroit through the faces of its kids. Wanting to make their lives better moved me to take action. When you’re grounded in your head, your mind tells you the don’ts and can’ts. When you’re grounded in your heart, you feel and do. Your passion finds you.”
Beyond Basics’ motto: Changing destiny through education.
Bravo, Pam, Joanne and company. Thank you for helping change Detroit’s destiny, one smiling face at a time.