I turned down Heathcliff Road in Malibu and noticed the sign beneath it - The Emily Shane Way. I realized then that was the exact spot where on April 3, 2010, as she was coming home from a friend's house, the bright young light of Emily Shane was extinguished by a suicidal driver. Angry and distraught at losing his job and other personal matters, he sped down PCH, murdering a precious thirteen-year-old whose only desire had been to be of service to others.
Full of grief, the family knew that somehow they had to survive and even as the dirt bounced off the casket, they knew what they were going to do…. create a site of good deeds. Emily, her mother Ellen tells me, was always helping others and concerned about their feelings. Despite the fact that this intelligent girl, herself, struggled with school because of perception difficulties, she was the first to welcome a stranger to their school and include them in her friendship group and the first to comfort a friend on a loss. Emily didn't care what you looked like or how you dressed, she was just nice to you.
At first the family concentrated on their Good Deeds Site where people would log in their good deeds. It didn't have to be major things like saving a life, but simple things like complimenting someone on what they wore or helping a friend with homework. They set the goal at 100,000,000 good deeds, but soon realized that they had to do more.
Emily's problems in school came from a processing issues -- the fact that she was an audio learner and not a visual one. She would know the answers 100% if you asked her, but for the life of her, she couldn't communicate it well on paper. Because schools often keep students in little boxes and seldom think outside to help failing kids, Ellen Shane wondered how many other children, like Emily, fell through the cracks? How many were having their potential was being wasted? When you're not succeeding, when you're at risk for failure, depression, gangs, skipping classes, low-self esteem, drugs, and grief sets in. The more they fail, they worse they become. This is especially important in middle school where students start questioning their abilities and often start "down the wrong path." Many parents, even in the affluent community of Malibu, are not aware of the IEP process or the 504, which identifies children who have special needs. So, in Emily's memory, she decided to do something more about the situation.
A whirlwind of energy, Ellen Shane created the SEA - Successful Educational Achievement, which she runs practically single handedly. Hiring or getting volunteers from university students, some of them in the school's work/study programs, she, with the help of school counselors, identifies at risk kids. They target kids who could not afford this much needed support.
The mentors, who receive a modicum of training, then assist these kids not only with homework, but with organizing their lives and improving their study habits. Often, they also serve as sounding boards for the kids who might feel they have no one to talk to that understands them. The kids who have participated have all improved not only in their grades, but in their attitude and esteem.
Mentors, who work out of the Boys and Girls Clubs (currently in the Malibu/Santa Monica schools,) see the children twice a week. There is no financial cost for this help. Besides learning about Emily and her life, the students are required, however, that, for every hour of help they are given, they must do something nice for someone else and list it on the site. Rather like that movie "Pay It Forward."
Currently, there is no other program like this in existence and with budget cuts in education, this foundation is needed more than ever.
Now in their second year of operations, Ellen hopes soon to expand in the Oxnard School District and perhaps later into the San Fernando Valley- Northridge area. Funds come strictly from donations and grants, as they are a 501c3 organization, but money is always a struggle. A ladies tea fundraiser, held this year, will be repeated next year on April 22, 2014.
For more information or to volunteer, either as a mentor or in other capacities, check out www.emilyshane.org or call 213 290 5441 And be sure to list your good deeds on the Emilyshane.org site.