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Foundation educates underprivileged kids

August 11, 2009 6:59:04 AM PDT
Chaka Khan has been making beautiful music for decades. And while she's not giving up that important part of her life, she has dedicated herself to another endeavor? education.The 10-time Grammy award winning vocalist started the Chaka Khan Foundation. She says her nephew's learning disability sparked her desire to help students in need.

The foundation launched the Chaka Believes Initiative in 2005 with the goal to enrich the lives of inner city 5th graders by exposing them to a world they might not ever experience, but it wasn't enough.

"Because the kids were not educated. And we would take them to different workshops and they didn't know how to read things, simple things," said Chaka Khan Foundation President Veronica Coffield. "I knew that we couldn't really help them if we didn't address their academics."

"The concentration level of course was nil. Kids were flunking all over the place," said Chaka.

Hoping to fill that gap, Coffield reached out to the community. The first call was to USC, where she corralled enough student volunteers to start an after school tutoring program on campus.

The foundation brought together a group of 6th grade students from the Charles Drew Middle School and a group from the Center for Early Education, a private independent school recognized for excellence in the classroom. The groups are from two different worlds: the privileged and the struggling. During the workshop the kids put together letters to send to President Barack Obama about their concerns and hopes for the future.

It's a learning experience for both groups, but for the 50 students from Charles Drew it's also a rare opportunity to step outside their lives and see what's possible.

"They can't go outside because they're afraid they're going to get shot. You know, they just feel really like no one has given them a fair hand and that all they see is the walls around them," said Coffield. "I mean you have kids that are upset and angry at the world. So either you turn your back on them or you really say 'hey what's going on?'"

After the visit to the Center for Early Education, 6th grade teachers from the facility volunteered their summer to tutor Chaka Khan's kids twice a week in Inglewood.

"In school we don't get the help we need must of the time because in class kids were not in class or they fight in class while the teachers are trying to teach us and they have to stop what they're doing," said Zohnice Terrell, a 7th grade student at Charles Drew Middle School.

"Here they help you until you actually get it," Charles Drew Middle School graduate Brian Alvarez said of the program.

"These kids are very, so inspiring that they choose to come here with what they have going on in their lives," said Joan Rosen, teacher at the Center for Early Education.

While President Barack Obama has yet to receive those letters, the students from Charles Drew Middle School are receiving some of the help they so desperately need now.

"Now that I've been in the program my grades have gone up because I had got my recent report card and I got As in four classes and I got Bs the other two," said Zohnice.

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