BY ANGELA BARBUTI
“We can’t change the educational system. We can’t change the world. But we can change one school, one child and one community at a time,” Louise Phillips Forbes said.
A real estate power broker with Halstead Property and mother of two, Phillips Forbes dedicates her time to serving Change for Kids, an organization working to transform New York City public schools in need.
The organization, headquartered on East 23rd Street, serves eight elementary schools in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx with financial support and educational programming. “We have a very rigorous application process. The first thing we do is find the great principals at very high-need public schools in the city. We work with that principal, the teachers and parents to understand their specific, pressing needs,” Phillips Forbes explained.
Besides providing money and resources to fund projects such as new computer labs, Change for Kids provides enriching programming like a Museum Arts Residency, parent workshops, literacy tutoring and musical instruction. They also host a wide range of events at their partner schools from career days and school beautification days to science nights and family game nights. Their Pre-K Reading Buddies program, where volunteers read to students, helped lift literacy scores at Brooklyn Landmark Elementary from 11 to 57 percent.
I read an interview in the Wall Street Journal where you explained that you learned about Change for Kids after going on a date with its founder.Yes, that’s a true story. That’s how I found Change for Kids. While that was not the intent, the founder, Ted Madara, and his sister and two other friends were on Spring Street on a Saturday afternoon having drinks in a little bar and struck up a conversation with these three ladies. One was principal and the others were kindergarten teachers in a public school. Ted bought them a round of drinks. When he paid for the drinks, it was $13-something and they compared it to the $12.79 each child was allocated for all of their supplies for the entire year from the Department of Education. And what many people may or may not know, Parent Associations supplement the curriculums for the school. Whether it’s the music program that doesn’t exist, additional supplies … So when you’re in very high-need public schools in areas where 80 percent of students qualify for a federal lunch program, you’re not getting a big flush from the Parent Association.
So the organization started with a change bucket on a trading desk?It was born from the idea of literally putting change in a bucket on a trading desk. So when you would order lunch at the trading desk, it would be $8 and you would put the $2 of change in this bucket. And at the end of the year, they would call the principal and say, “What do you guys need this year?” Ted ended up visiting the school in April, towards the end of the year. He walked into the art class and there were literally cut-up grocery bags with Q-tips with egg cartons with watered-down tempered paint. And the kids were drawing and didn’t know what they didn’t have. They only knew the joy that they had. A lot of those resources came from these teachers who were so invested. Everybody can think about their childhood and teachers who impacted their lives by giving you the attention. And they’re everywhere in our New York City public school system.
What kind of fundraisers have you been involved in?Oh my goodness, what haven’t I been involved with? We have some amazing partners. I’ve done Bowl for Kids, Run for Kids, Spin for Kids, Shop for Kids. Casino Night for Kids. We do some corporate building opportunities where they can have a beautification day on a Saturday. We can have 40 of our volunteers and they have 40 of their employees and they can go in and paint and clean a playground. And often, our kids from that school will want to join. So there is that opportunity to take pride in your backyard.
Explain one project Change for Kids has taken on at a school in need.One of our schools. P.S. 81, had this shameful construction caution tape across this huge classroom in their building that was the computer lab. It was under construction for literally 10 years. But it wasn’t really under construction because they didn’t have the budget for it. There were floppy disk computers that even the teachers couldn’t teach with because we haven’t seen them since the ‘80s. That was a source of shame for the principal, so we basically we went back to our board and reached out to our hedge funds and said, ‘When you’re getting new computers, please let us know. And if anyone is moving their office, we’re looking for desks and chairs.’ It cost us not one penny and the school got something that they were so proud of.
Your husband was the chairman of their board. Are your children invested in the program too?Oh absolutely. My children have made hundreds and hundreds of beaded bracelets and sold them on the beach in Montauk and the Hamptons for Change for Kids. They do lemonade stands and donate some portion of the proceeds to Change for Kids. My son had his first modeling job at Ralph Lauren earlier this year and made $600 and he told me that he wanted to put $500 in his savings account for college and give $100 to Change for Kids. That is beautiful; I was so excited. And I didn’t even suggest it.
Tell us about executive director Colin Smith, who left Wall Street to work for CFK.He is a force to be reckoned with. When I first met Colin, he was in his 20s and recently graduated from UVA. He was the president of our Junior Council and in 2008 after several years of working at Change for Kids, he felt that his Wall Street life was not as fulfilling. He literally left Wall Street and served on the board solely and then offered to be the executive director for no pay for some time because he believes so wholeheartedly in what we’re doing.
Explain some events that Change for Kids hosts at schools.There’s a pre-K buddies program where you can go and read to the kids. I go to Career Day in as many schools as I can to talk about what I do. We have Chess programs. We have Poetry Night, Family Fitness Night, Wellness Night, College and Career Explorations. We have Science labs on the weekends. We have students from high schools who take one Saturday every month and do science projects with the kids.
To learn more, visit www.changeforkids.org