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Community Highlights: Meet Dawn Richards of Titus 2 Foundation

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dawn Richards.

Hi Dawn, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today.
I was born and raised in North St. Louis City. My parents divorced at an early age so I was raised by my mom while my older brother lived with my dad. My parents were adamant about me doing well in school and getting a good education so I changed schools often to be sure I was receiving the best instruction. After graduating high school I attended Fisk University in Nashville, TN, and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration. I tried my hand at working in the corporate world but was unsuccessful, and after being fired from the banking industry I was at a crossroads in my life. I found myself homeless and unemployed with 2 children and was forced to move back home with my mother. I started working full-time as a substitute teacher and I felt I had finally found my purpose which was to help young people recognize their potential and become productive citizens. Well just when I had discovered my purpose my mother’s job transferred her to San Antonio, TX and I had to move with her because I couldn’t afford to live on my own at the time. I worked a job in retail while I was there but I longed for more. I prayed for a sign from God to give me direction in my life which led me to move back to St. Louis and pursue my teaching certification. Within 2 years of moving back, I was hired as a high school business education teacher in the same district where I was working before I left.

Throughout my time as a teacher, I witnessed many students fall through the cracks for various reasons but may have been more successful with the necessary support. During that time I also lost my husband to gun violence and was forced to raise my children alone. I was determined not to let them fall victim to the statistics of those being raised in single-parent homes. Both of my children graduated high school with honors and received scholarships to college. Out of my personal experiences as well as my experience as a teacher I wanted to help students like my children. I also wanted to help parents like me who have faced the burden of being single parents. I noticed that many of my students would not know what they wanted to do once they graduated. I knew that many of them lacked a support system because their parents/guardians were either uninformed about post-secondary opportunities and navigating the college process or just didn’t have the capacity to be concerned. Some parents/families were just happy their child was graduating and were not focused on the next steps. This bothered me on many levels because I witnessed so many students waste great talent.

Through my faith and belief in God, I have been able to persevere in spite of many challenges. I received my master’s degree and a doctoral degree in addition to starting my own business all while working full time and being a single parent. After 20-plus years, I resigned from teaching. I had always had a strong desire to form a non-profit organization to help the students I serve to be more successful in high school and begin the career planning process.

In 2018 Titus 2 Foundation was birthed out of my love for my students and my passion to help young people not fall into the traps that are so prevalent in today’s society. I want to help them realize their potential and understand that they are not a product of their circumstances.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
I would definitely not classify my road as smooth. There have been many obstacles I have faced but the most challenging have been personal financial struggles, grief, and self-doubt. Self-doubt kept me from moving forward because although I have plenty of experience, there were times I didn’t believe I was capable. The pandemic has played a part in the hindrance of getting into schools to start our programming.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about Titus 2 Foundation?
The Titus 2 Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization created to help students from non-traditional families navigate their high school careers and make informed decisions regarding their post-secondary options. Our mission is to develop underserved high school students into productive citizens through family, school, and community partnerships by way of monitoring self-progress, academic achievement, extracurricular activities, and community service. Our motto is “Connecting Family, School, and Community”

What makes us unique is that our scholarships are not just for college and students only need a 2.0 to apply. They are to help students pursue their post-secondary endeavors which could also include trade school, military, or an employment training program. I started the organization with $1500 of my own funds and gave away 2 scholarships in the first year. We have awarded over $7000 in scholarships to 11 students since 2020. Since its inception, we have raised over $10,000.00 to help grow our program so that we can help more students. The pandemic put a halt on our efforts to get into schools, however, it is our goal and a top priority to recruit a cohort of students who will benefit from our program. Some of the benefits of our program include career planning, mentorship, job shadowing experiences, summer internships, academic support, volunteer/community service hours, and resume building. We will also offer grief and mental health counseling to ensure we are helping the students remove any barriers that may hinder them from operating at their full potential. In addition to serving our students, we will offer a familial component to help parents & guardians advocate for their child’s success. Another aspect of our organization that sets us apart is that we target students from non-traditional families i.e. single-parent homes, children in foster care, children who have lost a parent due to death, children with an incarcerated parent, or children who are being raised by another family member.

Each year we have a fundraiser brunch where we honor educators who have made an impact in our community by way of the Educator Impact Awards. There is no greater joy than giving honor to those who are making a difference in the lives of young people. We are seeking event and organizational sponsors as we operate solely from donations.

Do you have any advice for those just starting out?
My advice for those just starting out is to write down everything you can think of that you want for your organization. Set short-term and long-term goals to measure your progress. BE PATIENT! Rome was not built in a day! When you feel yourself getting discouraged you must trust the process.

Do your research and don’t be afraid to ask questions of those who have experienced what you are trying to accomplish. Have a support system around you that you trust who will be honest with you and give you sound advice. Don’t worry about the numbers, focus on who is with you. Celebrate the small victories, don’t limit yourself, and don’t be afraid to DREAM BIG! Keep the faith.

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