Tim Whitaker still remembers the little boy from Pakistan who showed up on the doorstep one day – the boy with floppy hair who looked like Ringo Starr, the boy who was painfully shy and unhappy about moving to America.
More than that, Whitaker remembers how much that boy changed. Then again, as the executive director and founder of the nonprofit group Mighty Writers, Whitaker has seen a lot of kids change.
“Over time, day by day, by working with him and letting him express himself, he slowly but surely came around,” Whitaker said. “Now he’s one of our strongest kids and he’s completely comfortable in his own skin.”
Mighty Writers aims to teach children in the Philadelphia area how to write and think clearly. The group offers daily after-school programs, writing classes at night and on weekends, as well as scholarship programs and college prep courses at two locations in South and West Philadelphia. All courses and workshops are free to Philadelphia students.
“We’re trying to get kids to think clearly,” Whitaker said. “Because once they can write something that makes sense, they can express themselves confidently.”
Whitaker swears he can see a change in the children on a weekly basis, watching their personalities and confidence blossom through the help and tutoring that Mighty Writers offers.
Now, Mighty Writers hopes to reach even more children with their latest expansion into the neighborhood surrounding the Italian Market. Whitaker hopes the space will be able to open soon in order to help those children become clear thinkers and good writers.
“We’re looking to raise about $225,000 to cover the first two years of the new center,” Whitaker said. “We really want to be able to reach the community in that area as well.”
Whitaker’s own personal narrative is remarkably similar to some of the children he works with. Though he went on to attend Villanova University and work in New York radio on WNBC, as serve as the editor for “Philadelphia Weekly” for 14 years, his earlier academic life was not as successful.
“I was a miserable student and had difficulties in high school and college,” Whitaker said. “I just couldn’t abide the classroom very well, but the one thing I was always interested in was writing. I was able to complete college just by being able to write well.”
Whitaker said he knows on a personal level how much influence reading and writing can have on a growing adult. By founding Mighty Writers, and continuing to reach new heights with the non-profit, Whitaker hopes to have that same effect on many young lives.
Though Whitaker sees a need for a program like Mighty Writers almost anywhere, on any corner in any city, he notices a particular need for it in Philadelphia. Partly, Whitaker said that the majority of Philadelphia schools are failing their students – but also, that the city produces a fascinating kind of child.
“These kids come from so many different experiences,” Whitaker said. “They have great stories inside of them to tell. They’re funny, they’re quick, and they love expressing themselves once they get the confidence to do it.”
According to Whitaker, the influence Mighty Writers has on Philadelphia students is tangible – not only in the change those involved in the programs can see in the children, but also in the future of these students who, as Whitaker put it, focus on “staying mighty” after they finish high school and move on from the program.
Whitaker noted that 100 percent of children who go through the Mighty Writers program throughout high school, as well as the Team Scholars program, have gone to college.
“I don’t think it will be 100 percent forever,” Whitaker said. “The argument could even be made that college isn’t the greatest thing for everyone anymore, but I think all the kids have their eyes on the prize. We guide them all along the way and we’re always talking about the future and what they want their future to look like.”
From the beginning, Whitaker said that the nonprofit has always wanted to create spaces in West, South and North Philadelphia, with the hopes that it could be accessible to any student.
With two centers up and running in West and South Philadelphia, Whitaker hopes that a third Mighty Writers in the northern section of the city would be the next move. Whitaker wants to spread Mighty Writers as far as possible – from centers across Philadelphia to locations in other cities, perhaps, one day.
“Once kids are thinking clearly, they not only write well, but they make smart decisions,” Whitaker said. “They start to see a future.”
Victoria Mier can be reached at email@example.com