Los Angeles teacher Ed Gray learns an important lesson about giving back.

By Jesse Mintz
Photography by Nelson Lee

 

As his students fan out across the warm sand of the Santa Monica Beach, filling buckets and bags with discarded Styrofoam, plastic and other trash, Los Angeles teacher, Ed Gray, looks on proudly. The enthusiasm and excitement he sees in the young people volunteering to take time out of their weekend to clean up the neighborhood and give back to the community serves as a testament to his philosophy of service: that the best thing you can give is your time.

Originally from Massachusetts, Ed spent years bringing service into his classroom, seeing it help transform students into leaders and advocates. Three years ago, when he picked up and moved his family to California to teach Grade 6, 7 and 8 students in West Los Angeles, he wasn’t sure how his passion for community projects would be received.

During his first project—a community cleanup in the shadow of Interstate 10 in West Los Angeles—a student stopped Ed in his tracks by asking, “Why are we doing this? This is what my maid is for.”

Ed changed tactics. Instead of dictating what service projects his students did, he asked them to take the lead. When he reached out to WE and started a WE club—now numbering nearly 50 students in the school of 350—things took off.

“Before you knew it, we had speakers coming, resources at our fingertips, and when we went to WE Day that took everything to a whole new level,” he says.

With the freedom to choose their own projects, the right motivation and tools and resources from WE Volunteer Now, students have followed their passions and given more of their time to those in need. This led them to Skid Row to help people living on the streets, and to the beach to clean up the community and protect the environment.

Quote. It's important to know from a young age that your service matters. Unquote. Monique Coleman.

Whatever the project, above all else they’ve focused on giving their time. It’s a guiding principle that Monique Coleman, actress and Allstate Foundation Good Starts Young Ambassador, lives by. When she heard what the WE club members at The City School had done—providing food to those who are hungry in their community and fighting plastic waste—she was eager to help. She joined them as part of an Allstate Foundation-sponsored WE Volunteer Now speaking tour to offer some guidance from her years of service and pitch in for their Santa Monica beach clean-up.

“It’s important to know from a young age that your service matters,” Monique says.

Through WE Volunteer Now, the spark has been lit and the philosophy of service has taken on a momentum of its own for The City School students. “How do you make an impact?” he muses thoughtfully. “For each other, for the school, community and the globe, we can only give our time.”

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