Freedom School Partners’ (FSP) stakeholders are the foundation for a successful high-quality summer learning program in Charlotte. From supporting FSP through Spring into Summer, to volunteering, these relationships are a large part of what makes a Freedom School summer. Jillian Peat-Hamilton, Senior Director of Corporate Social Responsibility with TIAA, shared her experiences with coming alongside the program, and what it means.

In addition, TIAA was the sponsor for Field Day this summer where they provided eager volunteers to lead activities with scholars as well as special guest Hugo!

Q & A with Jillian:

How long have you volunteered with FSP as a team member with TIAA?

I started volunteering with FSP in 2019. One of my first memories is the celebration Jubilee held at the parking garage at Southlake Mall. Despite the necessity for social distance, the FSP culture was evident. We sang the confidence-building words of “So Strong” and celebrated scholar accomplishments. I was so proud to witness the FSP efforts that summer to ensure that children continued to have access to books and food all summer long.

Why do you feel the partnership between TIAA and Freedom School Partners is important?

Like FSP, TIAA is focused on equipping students with the educational resources they need to thrive and pursue their dreams. Recognizing that reading is the foundation for everything we do, the work done by FSP to build scholars into lifelong readers is critical. That TIAA is partnering in having the scholars read outside of school, in an innovative, energetic, and enjoyable setting fulfills the vision of our founder, Andrew Carnegie, whose legacy is tied to building more than 1,500 public libraries. When the scholars participate in this experience and recognize that reading is not a chore but a pathway to fun and fantasy, that reading is a toy and a tool, then they’ll start to imagine with Dr. Seuss “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!”

How have you seen FSP impact the broader community in the last 20 years?

One of the most important components of FSP is the summer internship. The program creates opportunities for college students to demonstrate leadership and learn important skills for the workplace– all the while experiencing the pride of earning their own money. FSP now has program leaders who were, not so long ago, elementary-age scholars participating in the program. For this wheel to come full circle, for the mentee to become the mentor, is one of the most significant markers of success of the summer program. For the scholars to interact with people who could be their college-age sister puts a college education and all that it offers within reach. For the interns to choose this way of contributing to their community signifies an awareness of the power and responsibility they hold to pay forward what they received. This pattern of intersecting circles is not broadcast widely enough, but it is a perfect example of the day-to-day interaction that builds community.

This summer FSP is celebrating 20 years of having the Freedom School program in the Charlotte area, what is your hope for the future of the Freedom School?

That FSP has served the community for 20 years is a source of inspiration to not only continue but to expand and improve. Over the years, we have learned how the inclusion of the diverse elements of our community has woven a stronger tapestry in which culture, heritage, and zip code don’t lose themselves but contribute to the texture and shades of the fabric. My hope is that both those who organize and participate will continue this weaving and leave themselves open to the resulting growth and discovery.

Sing with me, “Something inside so strong, I know that I can make it…” Cheers to 20 more years FSP!