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Monday, June 30, 2014

On her last day, Executive Director Amy Nakamoto reflects on eight years of growth and looks ahead

Written by Amy Nakamoto
Executive Director

Heart. Rhythm. Love. Sound.

These words and song title were written by our MacFarland “Crusader” middle school students as part of an America SCORES/ASCAP partnership in 2010. Students work with professional musicians to jointly write, record, and perform a song. I LOVE this “rock/folk-like” song (written and performed with The Great Unknown). It’s probably one of the most played on my iPod because all I hear are our kids’ poignant, silly, serious, and adolescent words coming out cohesively in verse.

Last week as I surveyed the vast green space turned mini-soccer fields for camp at Kelly Miller Middle School for the last time as executive director of DC SCORES, I repeated those words in my head. Heart. Rhythm. Love. Sound. There is “heart” and “rhythm” to a great youth development program. There are strong mentors (in our case, writing and soccer coaches), engaged students, safe structures, and opportunities for success at every turn. The adults care deeply, and the students thrive and are eager to learn because they feel supported.

This is the magic of DC SCORES.

When I began in this role in 2006, my team and I wanted to ensure that as many students as possible could be a part of DC SCORES. At that time, we were working with 20 schools and about 650 elementary school students. Our waitlist was overflowing with schools that wanted DC SCORES.

We created a vision and got to work.

Over the next eight years, DC SCORES would expand to middle schools, complete the organization's first exhaustive outcomes evaluation, define and refine what 'quality' looks like at each site, shift sustainability strategies, exponentially grow the staff, and ultimately increase the annual budget from $850,000 to more than $2M.

Today 1,500 elementary and middle school students at 47 schools are in DC SCORES. Each student is part of a team -- creatively expressing themselves, and providing service to their community. Students leave our program more physically fit, academically engaged, and have a higher sense of self-worth and sense of belonging than when they began.

As I allow myself to briefly look back, I see the faces of students like Jarmar, Emily, Ingrid, Christian, Ana, Aaron and Nana — all students who joined DC SCORES in elementary school with varying and important needs. They were shy, needed a place to belong, wanted to be an athlete, didn't love school, needed a mentor, had things to say, were disengaged, socially isolated, and the list goes on. They found a home in DC SCORES from elementary school, through middle, and then as volunteers and active alums in our high school network.

They are transformed. And they will become remarkable, thoughtful and successful adults.

This growth was a labor of love and strategy. It was a true team effort, as there is no other way in DC SCORES culture. I am thankful to have been surrounded by smart, dedicated and hard-working staff members — they pushed me as we evolved collectively as an organization. The engaged DC SCORES board of directors was a source of support, guidance, counsel and partnership. And to our donors, funding partners, and volunteers who chose to put your backing into DC SCORES — I thank you tremendously for supporting the organization and me.

There remains a lot of excitement and work ahead for DC SCORES. We are on the cusp of launching a formal program for our high school-age youth, and a school waitlist remains. We are focusing deeper on evaluation and increasing volunteer engagement exponentially. I am more confident than ever in the DC SCORES family that will carry on this important work, led by my replacement, Bethany Henderson. Bethany’s impressive experience, entrepreneurial approach, and history of building initiatives and organizations within existing infrastructures will serve DC SCORES greatly through its next phase.

The oft-repeated line in ‘my’ song (from above), “I pass you the ball, and you pass it back to me” contains many metaphors. I’ve had the chance to impact hundreds of young people’s lives, work within amazing teams, and grow personally and professionally. Thank you all for passing me the ball.

I pass it back to you.



Amy will be the Assistant Director of Advancement at St. Andrew’s School in Middletown, Delaware, beginning this fall. Stay connected by following her on Twitter at @AmyNakamoto.

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