It’s late on Christmas Eve night and I just got out of prison. This was not my first Christmas Eve to spend in prison, but it was one of the most memorable. Why? Reciprocity.
At TEEP, our 5 core values are the “5 Rs,” and the 4th R is reciprocity. We teach our students that the starting point for understanding reciprocity is gratitude. Gratitude is the fuel that empowers us to give back to our communities. For our middle school program the heart of reciprocity is giving back, and our students find various ways to join in doing this as a community.
When students enter TEEP’s high school Leadership Development Program (LDP), they learn that a deeper level of reciprocity is about our interconnectedness and interdependence. We try to work this theme of interdependence in to as much of our leadership development work as possible. The students also do weekly reflections (you can see a couple samples of these in previous posts) and their reflections show that they are internalizing this aspect of reciprocity.
This brings me back to my evening in prison. My father is a chaplain in a large state prison in Pennsylvania, and I occasionally go in to the prison with him for religious services. Tonight, as I was waiting for the candlelight service to begin, I thought about the journey our LDP students have traveled this past year.
It has been extraordinary to watch them struggle to come to terms with what reciprocity — and excellence, our overall theme — mean for their daily choices and then begin to act accordingly.
I talked with several of the men after the service tonight, and I could not help but wonder what their lives might be like now had they had a program like TEEP when they were in high school. It’s impossible to say of course, but one thing was very clear to me – TEEP is definitely changing the odds for our students.
Our students have achieved a lot of excellence this year in a great variety of different areas. Some of this would simply not have been possible without the support of our community. And by community, I don’t just mean the students, staff and faculty in the program. I mean our entire community of donors, volunteers and citywide partners.
We are deeply grateful for all of the support that we receive from so many different people that makes the journey to excellence possible. To all who support us in whatever way – thank you. You are a vital part of this cycle of reciprocity.
Founding Director, TEEP