Why I Give to All Hands Raised: Our Board Chair's Story
Why I Give to All Hands Raised: A Letter from All Hands Raised Board Chair, Jennifer Messenger Heilbronner
A few months back, at my brother’s wedding, I got to reconnect with my third grade teacher, Sally Beisser. She was on the guest list all these years later because she had a tremendous impact on my brother’s life, and on mine too. Mrs. Beisser was one of the first champions of my writing, and when she greeted me with “I remember all those books you made, all those stories you told,” I still felt proud.
I was fortunate to grow up in a supportive family and strong community. My daily needs were met, I was safe, and my neighborhood schools were good. However, the more common reality across our local school districts is that too many students come to class hungry, struggle to do homework in an unstable housing situation, or face violence at home or in the community. Health conditions like asthma and untreated cavities keep them out of the classroom for a detrimental number of days. The well-publicized “summer slide” is real for kids who don’t have access to enriching activities, much less a reliable source of food, when school lets out.
Situations like this are far from isolated. More than 42% of young people in Multnomah County, from birth to age 24, live in poverty. Students of color, immigrants, and refugees face increased challenges due to decades of systemic injustice and implicit racism, and are excluded from prosperity generation after generation. It is this connection between health, equity, community, and schools that brought me to All Hands Raised four years ago.
All Hands Raised means just that—all hands raised in support of student success. Its talented staff works with our schools to test new approaches, focusing on critical transition times for students: starting kindergarten, succeeding in ninth grade, graduating high school and entering college or career. Together they are making progress on improving attendance and eliminating disproportionate discipline, as well as addressing many other critical strategies to keep students in school, support their learning and increase opportunity. (See our current work overview here).
All Hands Raised unites stakeholders in education, nonprofit, government, and business to reimagine a system that supports all students. It collects and reports data to show what’s working and to illuminate the persistent disparities in our system. And above all, it works unwaveringly for equity—ensuring that every student gets the support they need to succeed in school, regardless of their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or other factors.
I am a believer in our public schools and the community impact organizations who partner with them. I admire the curiosity and innovation I’ve seen them bring to challenging issues. I’ve seen my own daughters thrive, and I’ve met some phenomenal teachers who remind me of my own personal hero, Mrs. Beisser, and the impact she made in my life. I see the power that comes with each new hand raised in support of all our students.
Jennifer Messenger Heilbronner
Board Chair, All Hands Raised