Ensuring Children Achieve Their Full Potential

Sanford TolletteSanford Tollette is being honored as a Champion of Change for his Kiwanis International service. 

I am so humbled by this award. At the age of 60, I’ve had some “woe is me” moments of feeling underappreciated at times for the life of service I have led. This unexpected award is an amazing gift, but it is one that I share with my wife and family and with my “family in service” to the underprivileged and at-risk youth of Central Arkansas.

Reflecting on my life as a child of the South, born in the bed of my family’s home in 1951 in Hope, Arkansas (on the other side of the tracks before Hope became famous), I never thought I would achieve anything other than survival, let alone any awards for my work. I moved from segregated schools in the South to integration at Central High School and then on to the University of Arkansas, where I graduated with my BSE in Early Childhood Education and a minor in science.

After teaching in the Little Rock and Pulaski County Public Schools for eight years, I began to think creatively about how to make a difference in the lives of students who, I noticed on a regular basis, were not achieving their full potential. Little did I know that after meeting with the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1977, the idea of an innovative concept targeting problem children that we call “youth at risk” would be funded. The program has produced significant positive results and has become a part of a national movement for defining children and families with challenges. In 1988 at the Joseph Pfeifer Kiwanis Camp, we started the Alternative Classroom Experience—a 30-day residential, educational wilderness program for elementary students who are experiencing academic and social challenges. The program is now in its 24th year.

Blessed by the heritage of my parents and the inspiration of my teachers and those individuals who taught me to believe in myself and to make a difference, I became the first African-American drum major of the University of Arkansas and the Southwest Conference; the first African-American chairman of the AmeriCorps Commission in Arkansas and was instrumental in the development of their early programs; and the first African-American executive camp director of Joseph Pfeifer Kiwanis Camp. While I make the statement about being African-American, the main point I want to make is that I work to be the best American at my craft, thinking only about how to provide and deliver opportunities for those individuals who have found themselves in less fortunate circumstances. Never in my wildest dreams as a teacher, environmental educator and camp director, did I ever think that my work would give me the opportunity to be at our nation’s Capitol.

Sanford Tollette transformed a summer camp for underprivileged  kids, expanding it into a year-round program called the Alternative Classroom Experience. Sanford is a longtime member of the Kiwanis Club of Downtown Little Rock, Arkansas, and a donor to the Kiwanis International Foundation

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