“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” – Arthur Ashe
These wise words from tennis legend Arthur Ashe could only be improved with one more phrase: “Invite a friend.”
This is what friends and fellow education advocates Yara Cheikh and Jonathan Schwartz have done for one another over the many years their collaborative volunteer efforts have spanned. They know that, in partnership with a complementary companion, one’s efforts to impact a community can grow exponentially.
We’re thrilled to introduce Yara and Jonathan as volunteer co-chairs of A Night for the Network 2023, and invite you to spend a few minutes getting to know them each individually, and as a dynamic duo.
As a mother to three BCPS alumni, Yara has spent nearly two decades in service to students and the district as a PTSA volunteer and leader at both the school and county level. She was well aware of Laurie Taylor-Mitchell’s advocacy, and when she heard of the effort to provide for a few Loch Raven High School families around the 2015 winter holidays, she became one of the first donors to the soon-to-become Student Support Network, dropping a donation in the pink boot on Laurie’s porch!
She continued to contribute as small opportunities arose and the Network grew, and was plugged in and ready to take action when the pandemic took hold and our way of serving families and students shifted from in-school Rooms of Support to mass community food distributions. Yara led the distribution efforts at Parkville High School for the duration, and coordinated the movement of materials to the other two distribution sites. Through this work, she learned that her friend Jonathan was getting involved across the county at Owings Mills High School.
Jonathan, a father to two BCPS alumni and longtime PTSA leader, had gone back to work after several years as a stay-at-home parent, as Chief of Staff to County Councilperson Vicki Almond during her tenure. Vicki’s most recent term had ended not long before the arrival of COVID-19, and she didn’t hesitate to spearhead the Owings Mills High School distribution site as soon as she learned of the need. Already a stalwart supporter of the Network. Jonathan raised his hand to help and before they all knew it, these three advocates – and many more – were, like Ashe said, starting where they were, using what they had, and doing what they could.
This scenario felt familiar to Yara and Jonathan, who had come together before to catalyze change. The two have partnered to bring air conditioning to local schools, to support candidates for public office, and to nurture community organizations, frequently livening things up by playing their shared favorite artist Jason Isbell in the background!
After the pandemic food distribution efforts ceased and Rooms of Support re-opened, we called upon Yara to serve as volunteer chair for our first major fundraiser, A Night for the Network 2021. She impressively and tirelessly served solo in this role for two years, helping establish an event which has enabled growth of the Network at a crucial time. As post-pandemic poverty and the needs of students continue to increase, Yara recognized that the event – and, in turn, the Network – could grow accordingly with two volunteer leads instead of one.
Now, the dynamic duo are coming together again after Jonathan accepted Yara’s invitation to serve as co-chair for this year’s event. Backed by a committee of Network board and staff members, fellow volunteers and supportive community partners – including Vicki Almond! – their joint efforts are sure to yield amazing results.
You’re invited to join them: we’ve got ways for everyone to start where you are, to use what you have, and to do what you can to make A Night for the Network even more memorable. There’s no contribution too small. Reach out to us today at events@studentsupportnetwork.