How can a college T-shirt make a difference? When Lisa Hirsch-Aarvig, the Family Resource Center coordinator at Atkinson Academy, learned that her students thought college wasn’t an option for them, she decided to write letters to colleges and universities all over the country, requesting free T-shirts for her students to wear. This simple effort reaped huge results, not only physically with the amount of sportswear that arrived, but emotionally, for students to know that they could be college-bound in the future. More than 100 colleges and universities sent T-shirts — a total of 250 — plus pennants, bookmarks, pencils, stickers and pens. This FACE of Louisville shows us all the impact that just one person can make in someone’s life.
What do you do at Atkinson Academy?
I am Atkinson Academy’s Family Resource Center coordinator. We are in schools to help remove noncognitive barriers to education. I like to say that I work to ensure students and families are happy, safe, healthy, strong and successful. I work with school staff and community members to encircle families with what they need to be successful. I do home visits, share information on after-school and summer programs, child care, tutoring, health services, adult education, collaborate to offer family literacy programs and link people to myriad community resources. Atkinson is a high-poverty elementary school (with 430 students in PreK through grade 5) in the Portland neighborhood. We teach that hard work, plus resiliency, plus teamwork equal success. We teach that college can be a reality. We are a school on the move, making big gains in achievement over the last several years. This year, we are boasting about a 16 point jump in reading.
Tell us about the letter-writing campaign you started this summer at Atkinson Academy.
I wanted to collect enough college/university T-shirts to give one to every Atkinson student. I wasn’t sure how, so I sat down, wrote about my school and students, and simply asked for help from admissions offices around the country. If you don’t ask, people don’t have the opportunity to help, and all they can say is no. I believe if you are passionate about something and can express that to others, people get excited and want to help.
How can a college T-shirt make such a big impression on a grade school child?
The shirt is more than fabric. It’s a symbol, a motivator, a conversation-starter about a student’s future. We take a lot of things for granted, including basic needs like the clothes on our backs. The college T-shirts also serve as another item students can wear to school.
What is one piece of advice that you can give any grade school child about going to college?
Start setting goals and working hard to reach them now, and keep practicing. Ten thousand hours of practice makes you an expert.
What or who is inspiring you right now?
A colleague and friend who recently lost her fight with breast cancer inspires me. She did not give up, spoke her mind, was grateful for the good in her life and had a sassy, sparkly style and personality. She embodied resilience and inspired everyone around her.
What is the biggest life lesson you have ever learned?
Time is short! Make the most of it. People can’t read your mind. Embrace vulnerability, and communicate what you want and need.
Who is your mentor?
Camp Piomingo has played a huge role in shaping who I am … influencing my love of the outdoors, appreciation of diversity, sense of adventure, independence, providing lifetime friendships. I am thankful for the physical place, as well as the amazing people who helped me grow up there.
What is best advice you have received in business?
Always use “please” and “thank you.”
If you were not in your current job, what would you secretly love to do?
My dream job would be camp director.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
I danced (ballet) for 15 years, and I love fried chicken livers with hot sauce.
What was your favorite Halloween costume?
What did your room look like as a child?
My room was pink, green and white wallpaper plastered with red, black and white U of L basketball paraphernalia.
What is your favorite place to go eat?
Where do you like to shop?
I love to find treasures at thrift stores and T.J. Maxx.
What is a treat or a luxury you do for yourself?
I treat myself to Kizito pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, Graeter’s mocha chip ice cream or dark chocolate peanut butter cups from Trader Joe’s.
What is your weakness?
I have a hard time saying no.
What is your favorite thing to do in Louisville?
I love the outdoors: swimming at Lakeside, hiking, camping and gardening. I also love cheering on the Cards at Louisville basketball games.
Three things you cannot live without (besides God, family and friends)?
I currently need chocolate, flip flops and my early morning workout buddy to survive.
What are you reading right now?
What are three of your favorite things right now (can be anything).
Right now, I am loving lip sync contests on Jimmy Fallon, homemade pesto and tomato sandwiches and the sound of cicadas.
Thank you to Lisa, who took time out of her busy day with her students for our photo shoot. Seeing you in action was such a treat for us. If you would like to donate new college sportswear to Atkinson Academy, please mail it to: 2811 Duncan St, Louisville, KY 40212.
Want to read about more inspiring women in the community? Click here to check out more FACES.
As always, much gratitude to our FACES photographer Adele Reding for her fantastic work. See her profile on her Facebook page.