As it often is with big ideas that have the power to change the world, Eye to Eye happened almost by accident.
In 1998, five college students with LD / ADHD from Brown University sat down with a group of similarly-labeled elementary school students from Fox Point Elementary in Providence, RI. The Brown students called themselves Project Eye-to-Eye, the name for their public service project. The program had one simple goal: give these younger students hope.
The two groups quickly established the mentor/mentee dynamic, working together on art projects to help the younger students better understand the way they learned, how to express their emotions and creativity, and most importantly, how to build their self-esteem. They used art as their medium because it allowed for easier conversation about difficult topics, came with no right or wrong answers, and was just plain fun.
"If we don't do this, nobody else will."
At the time, the five mentors were simply engaged in the type of community service that college students often take part in -- sharing experiences with other students who were struggling in the same way they had.
In time, the five students graduated and went their separate ways, believing that Project Eye-to-Eye would become a pleasant but minor footnote in each of their lives. David Flink, one of the founding five, took a position in the admissions office at Brown. His old student email address was still active, and every so often, he'd receive emails from current Brown students asking how they could continue the mentoring program. Much to David's surprise, the emails increased in frequency and began arriving from other universities where students were starting their own Project Eye-to-Eye chapters. Sensing there was something powerfully significant and enduring about the idea he had help bring to life, David resigned and moved to New York to focus all his attention on turning Project Eye-to-Eye into a national movement.
David spent the next three years working out of his apartment closet, transforming the loose collection of student mentors into a cohesive network of local chapters unified by a core set of guiding principles, operating standards, and structured curriculum. He poured virtually every dollar he raised back into the program for the mentors and mentees. He built his management and advisory team from the ground up, relying on old allies and new friends, as well as experts in education and LD / ADHD. His first hire, now Chief Operating Officer Marcus Soutra, toured the country, helping chapters get started, recruiting chapter coordinators, approaching local schools to find kids they could help, installing the curriculum, working to influence administrators and decision makers, cultivating donors - all the legwork it takes to get a movement moving. The number of chapters grew to almost 40. The number of students with LD / ADHD the movement was helping swelled into the thousands.
Today, Eye to Eye no longer considers itself a project but rather a full-fledged instrument for change. It is widely recognized as one of the leading national not-for-profit mentoring programs changing the lives of thousands of kids and young adults across the United States. Each day, Eye to Eye gives students with LD / ADHD - often labeled "at-risk" at school - a feeling of empowerment because they now belong to a community of understanding and compassion that celebrates the differences inherent in us all. Eye to Eye's program model builds the skills necessary for developing self-esteem and then shows students how to turn that into academic success. Knowing how you learn and standing up for the support you need are two of the most important attributes anyone with LD / ADHD can have. It's a message that continues to spread to students with LD / ADHD across the country.
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