Archive | December 2011

Volunteers Make Magic All Year

My almost three-year-old granddaughter has figured out that something special is about to happen. First a big tree came into the house and now it has sparkly lights on it. On a recent trip to the mall with her parents she laid eyes on a big man in a red suit.

We believe in the magic volunteers make.

She’s told he will be bringing presents. Her curiosity won out over her normal shyness as she greeted him with both excitement and fright. Days later as she helped with decorations, she inquired about the stockings by the fireplace. Her mother explained it, causing Kate to beeline to the other room where her father is working. “Dad,” she whispers, perhaps fearing that exposing the secret will somehow dispel it. “Santa Claus is going to put presents in the stockings!”

This is magical, both for Kate, and for the adults who get to witness it. Magic comes in many forms. For the volunteers at APIE, it most often happens when one of our students has an “a-ha” moment in math; or in reading, when a challenging word is understood. It happens at the end of every class when they ask, “Will you be here next week?” It happens when we see mastery giving birth to self-confidence.

Please help us make magic for Austin students. We currently need more than 150 volunteers for the spring semester that starts January 17th. Please go to to register.

Wishing you and yours a magical holiday,

Pat Abrams, Executive Director


The Season of Giving

What I love about December is the sense of closure I get on the year. It’s a time to wrap things up. In the office we’re tallying our accomplishments and planning for next year’s new developments. That’s the easy part. It’s taking stock of how I’ve lived my life these past twelve months that requires some deep diving. The question is have I been the best human I can be? Have I made the world a better place?

This year I tried to pick up litter wherever I found it, though I admit that an aversion to communicable diseases sometimes caused temporary blindness. I worked hard to really listen when someone needed my attention. This one definitely needs improvement. And of course I still meet weekly with two 7thgrade girls as a Reading Classroom Coach.

City of Austin employee Kathy Garland has kept APIE on her giving list. Kathy is in her fifth year giving an hour a week as a Classroom Coach. Thank you for your commitment to building a better community!

This ritual of annual reflection helps me keep the commercial hype in check and focus on what’s real about the season. And it always informs my “giving campaign” for the coming year.


This year, as you make your lists, please consider the many ways you can make the Austin community a better place, whether it’s picking up litter, donating to a favorite cause, or the most precious gift of all, giving your time. At Austin Partners, we ask volunteers to give one hour a week to help support students in the classroom. Just one hour for 13 weeks between January and May.

Over 200 openings, serving more than 300 children are waiting to be filled for the spring semester. To learn more about how to get involved please go to Register today, we’ll email you training schedules for early January.


Happy Holidays,

Pat Abrams, Executive Director

Remembering Mr. Allison (part two)

Mr. Allison delivered me from the educational miscarriage of my 6th grade year. He knew I needed more challenge than this class was going to provide and found creative alternatives for keeping me engaged. For most of the year he sent me to be Miss Raab’s helper in the Special Ed class. At least weekly, I would go to the other end of the hall to read to her kids. Though the stories I read were well below my academic ability, the job was important. And I was the only student in the school entrusted with it.

Then, Mr. Allison did something that transformed our entire class. I think it started as a playground taunt: one of the smart kids called us dummies. A boy in our class struck back. “Oh yeah? I bet Pat could beat you in a smarts contest any day.”

Shortly after, Mr. Allison announced we’d have a spelling bee. Our class against the smart kids. He put us in training. We memorized word lists and did drills and practice bees. The playground at recess filled with boasting and jeers. By the day of the contest the rivalry was palpable.

With desks pushed aside, our two classes faced off. One by one we stepped forward to spell. About half on each side made it through the first round. We went again. And again. I was the last one standing for our class. I faced Leonard, the brainiac of Mr. Bell’s class. My stomach churned as I wiped sweaty palms on the side of my skirt. My entire class was cheering for me, depending on me to prove a point.

Sadly, I don’t remember how it ended. It doesn’t matter. For those few weeks, my classmates and I knew we were smart enough to go up against the smartest kids. We worked as a team towards a singular, academic goal. We proved we weren’t the dummies that everyone thought us to be.

Mr. Allison encouraged us to stretch ourselves. He showed us how to challenge stereotypes and overcome our own preconceived limitations. He believed in us, gave us confidence and instilled pride in our accomplishments. And after all these years, he is the only teacher whose impression I still carry with me.

Who were your great teachers? Tell us your story of teachers and mentors who had an impact, and changed your life.

Write to me at

Pat Abrams, Executive Director