“Everyone is a potential solution to a problem in this world – because it is up to us to make the decision to do it,” Jaleesa Hall, founder and CEO of Raising a Village Foundation (RAV) said.
RAV is a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit organization with 501c(3) status that has served over two thousand children and families since its establishment in 2017. The organization celebrated its sixth year of community service in October where undergraduate students in its Driven 2 Succeed program prepared for the 2023-24 academic school year with a pinning ceremony, mentorship and tutoring workshops.
The Driven 2 Succeed program connects Washington D.C. students in grades K-12 at 15 public schools with tutors who are undergraduate students at Howard University, American University, George Washington University and Catholic University. The participating tutors are college students in the Federal Work-Study program.
According to RAV, the tutoring program has been successful as 80% of public school students have improved their academic performance, 85% of students achieved perfect attendance and 92% of students completed all of their assignments by the due date.
During her sophomore year at Clark Atlanta University, Hall sought ways to serve her community before creating the “Driven Student Organization” to help incoming students identify community service opportunities. The student organization went from sharing existing opportunities to creating its own.
“Before I graduated, the organization grew from six of my closest friends to over 100 members and began gaining recognition from BET, Coca-Cola and other major corporations,” Hall said, discussing the origins of RAV.
During her junior year, while pursuing her communications degree, Hall had a conversation with a mentor about the success of her campus organization and ultimately shifted her focus to nonprofit management, which she studied in a graduate program.
Before creating RAV, Hall dedicated her time to learning about nonprofits and the D.C. landscape. Hall started RAV after winning a $10,000 prize from Shark Tank and told The Hilltop that her college matriculation prepared her for her current role.
“At Clark Atlanta, our motto is culture for service, but also find a way or make one. They made sure you understood that notion,” Hall said, sharing how historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) prepare their students for the real world and equip them with self-advocacy and determination.
“[Clark Atlanta] prepared me to create. When I created RAV and came across obstacles, I remembered to ‘find a way or make one’, which I credit to [my] HBCU experience,” Hall said.
Kristina Beckford is a freshman nursing major at Howard University from Brooklyn, New York, who is excited to join RAV’s tutoring program.
“There are so many opportunities for service at Howard. As soon as you arrive on campus, you are taught the importance of mentorship and giving back,” Beckford said.
Hall explained her motivation for recruiting undergraduate students as tutors for RAV’s Driven 2 Succeed tutoring program. “Undergraduate students are the most bright, passionate and creative demographic on the planet,” Hall said.
“I believe that our undergraduate tutors will get our learners where they need to be,” Hall said.
Because the Driven 2 Succeed program operates in predominantly Black and brown communities, Hall emphasized the importance of instilling cultural competency in all staff and team members.
“As a Black woman who leads an organization serving [marginalized] communities, it is important that I am providing our learners and families with opportunities to see themselves reflected in my team,” Hall said.
Taniya Richardson, a junior nursing major at Howard University from Louisville, Kentucky, looks forward to another year of serving in RAV’s tutoring program.
“It is more than just tutoring. It is a mentorship opportunity,” Richardson said.
While working at Roosevelt High School, Richardson noticed students and teachers were disconnected, which she attributed to students being predominantly Black with few Black teachers. Richardson encouraged students to attend college, consider possible career paths and shared her own experiences, explaining that many students had little knowledge about colleges and HBCUs.
“I want [youth] to know that they are more than what teachers consider them to be and more than what they think they are,” Richardson said.
After starting her matriculation at Howard as an elementary education major, Richardson mentioned she always felt drawn to work with youth and seeks to instill the same skills she received from Howard into her learners.
“Howard instills students with the belief of not only advocating for themselves but for other people,” Richardson said.
Hall encouraged Howard students with a desire to serve their local community to join the organization and to believe in their efforts to make a difference. She also stressed the importance of authenticity in spaces of learning between RAV student guides and learners.
“If you feel the call, [then] serve because it is not about changing the world. If you just do your part, the world will change around you,” Hall said.
Copy edited by Alana Matthew