“The greatest gift one can give any child, especially those from marginalized communities, is the gift of ‘I believe in you.’”
Those were the words of Rick Dunn, Founder/CEO of Athens-Clarke County High School Completion Initiative, Inc. (HSCI). Graduating from UGA with a Journalism degree, he hosted a radio talk show, Community Forum, for 36 years and, in 2007, Dunn launched HSCI to address high school dropout rates. In 2009, he was hired by the Clarke County School District to increase graduation rates through HSCI.
HSCI is a program that works with participants to produce audio programs for an internet radio station. Their show, Education Matters, gives the youth a voice. It discusses the importance of education and how young lives are shaped by the decisions of adults in power. It teaches students about researching, writing, announcing, program development, audio production, and teamwork. Most of all, the show gives students a space to showcase their talents, skills, and intellect regardless of their background.
The success of the program has been evident. Graduation rates increased from 63% to 80% from the start of the program in 2009 to 2015. Out of the participants, 96% graduated high school within four years and 100% enrolled in a post-secondary institution, joined the military, or found employment.
In recognition of the 10th anniversary, they launched the 10 for 10 campaign, which asked people to pledge $10 per month to support HSCI. In addition, they had former participants call in and give testimonials on the show. They expressed how the program taught them about communication, teamwork, and having self-worth. Listeners were overjoyed to hear about how well the youth were doing, Dunn especially: “I felt blessed to have been the instrument that was used to instill those virtues in those young people.”
Last year they also created a youth-led news network. But with all the exciting progress and achievements, more funding will be crucial to the growth and enrichment of the program. HSCI received 501(c)(3) designation in 2019 which will give it the stability and longevity it needs when Dunn eventually steps down from his position as lead coordinator.
But as of right now, Rick Dunn is central to nearly all operations of the program. His typical workload includes accounting, teaching, marketing, production, editing, and recruiting. Essentially, everything that keeps the program running.
Dunn has been key to the success of HSCI, but he is quick to emphasize that what he is doing is bigger than himself. “The program isn’t about me. It’s about making kids’ lives better for generations to come.”