How the Potter’s House Saved Its STEAM Summer Camp With a Litle Help from Some Friends

Corey Anthony (left), chief diversity officer at AT&T, Cynt Marshall, CEO of the Dallas Mavericks, and Hattie Hill, CEO of the T.D. Jakes Foundation, posed for a photograph on July 8 at Victory Plaza in Dallas. (Ryan Michalesko / Staff Photographer)

The fact that the STEAM Academy is finishing up its fourth annual day camp this week is a miracle of sorts and a tribute to the value of relationships.

Just ask Hattie Hill.

In mid-March, when the world as we knew it shut down, the CEO of the T.D. Jakes Foundation was six weeks away from hosting 500 kids at the Potter’s House megachurch campus in southern Dallas.

This five-week summer camp founded by Bishop T.D. Jakes is considered a local gem that exposes Dallas County kids ages 5 to 16 to next-wave jobs in science, technology, engineering, arts and math that could lift them from economic disadvantage.

“Our chairman, my boss, sees this as his legacy work. He sees that’s where the jobs of the future are going,” Hill says of Jakes. “It gets to the heart of all of us leaning in to deal with this issue.”

Hill cites a recent study by McKinsey & Co. indicating that the average student is losing seven months of learning due to the pandemic. But Black students may fall behind by 10.3 months, Hispanic students by 9.2 months and low-income students by more than a year. “We estimate that this would exacerbate existing achievement gaps by 15% to 20%,” Hill says.

That made this summer’s event even more important to Dallas’ underserved youth.

When Hill announced that the program was going online, she quickly had 5,000 students signed up — 10 times as many as the 500 who had attended the previous hands-on and highly interactive program. She needed support and expertise in a hurry.

So Hill did what she does best — she picked up the phone.

She asked her friends in the business community to come to the rescue. And they did, providing technology resources, online programming and money.

“Honestly, in the 30-plus years that I’ve been here, I’ve never seen anything comparable,” says Hill, a longtime consultant in workplace diversity. “It was Dallas saying, ‘Just do it. Take some action. It may not be perfect, but let’s do what we can.’ And we did.”

One call leads to another

First on board was her friend Cynt Marshall, CEO of the Dallas Mavericks.

“I walked Cynt through it, told her I had 5,000 kids signed up and needed help. You know Cynt — it was, ‘We don’t want these kids to get lost in the system. What can we do?’ ” Hill says. “She was awesome.”

The biggest concern was the digital divide.

Hill knew that there were at least 100 families without computer devices and a dozen or so without access to high-speed internet. Dallas ISD had distributed hotspots to its students after the COVID-19 shutdown or that number would have been higher.

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SOURCE: The Dallas Morning News, Cheryl Hall