Clary's adopted class nears graduation
11th graders have been sponsored by company since grade school
By Brad Johnson, Editor
South Hill - "You receive back more than you put into it. To see their eyes light up, to see them succeed - that's our greatest joy," said Jean Clary Bagley, co-owner of Century 21 Clary and Associates. "If you want to have your life and those of your employees uplifted, adopt a classroom and support them through graduation."
And Clary should know. Her company has supported the current 11th grade class at Park View High School since they were grade schoolers.
Through the CARES (Children Are Really Extra Special) Program, the company "adopted" the students and his contributed money toward ensuring that they have the opportunity to attend community college after graduation.
Last month, a check presentation was held at Park View High School, as Century 21 Clary and Associates presented a $5,000 check to Suzanne Rohler, deputy director of administration for the Virginia College Savings Plan, for the Higher Education Tuition Trust Fund.
Century 21 Clary and Associates has donated more than $50,000 to date in order for the students to have the opportunity upon graduation of attending Southside Virginia Community College free for one year.
"We don't have a program like this anywhere else in the state, " Rholer said. "It's very unique. They've put so much work into it. It's real honor for us to be involved.
"Jean knew the name of every kid there," Rholer said. "I told her I'm prepared to do whatever I can to make their senior year wonderful."
Dr. John Cavan, president of SVCC, and Dr. Frank Polakiewicz, superintendent of Mecklenburg County Schools, were present for the ceremony at PVHS. "SVCC, has been our wonderful partner in this," Clary said.
"Dr. P. told the kids if every business in Mecklenburg County adopted a grade of kids and stated with them through graduation, it would revolutionize the educational system," he said.
Century 21 Clary and Associates are the corporate sponsors for 163 11th graders at Park View High.
"We adopted half of them when they were in kindergarten at South Hill Primary School," Clary said, "In the sixth grade, we adopted the kids who came in from other schools. When those kids came together in middle school, we had to adopt them all," she said with a chuckle.
Clary said years ago she'd noted the grim statistics about how many children in Mecklenburg County don't graduate high school, and how few of those who go on to higher education. "That's why we got involved, to help these kids."
"We could only do this with the complete help of our staff," she said. Century 21 Clary and Associates agents donate a portion of their commissions, which are matched by the company to provide the funding for the program.
"We are the only company in Virginia that has adopted a group of kids and mentored them and set money aside so they have an opportunity to go to college," Clary said.
"The rules are that they cannot miss a grade, and they must graduate in 2008."
"This is to give them hope and let them know there's a future out there," she said. "We love these children, they've become a part of our lives. I don't know what we'll do when they graduate. It's just been one of the greatest joys of our lives. They're such good kids."
"We got involved with this because my mother, who's now 93, taught school for 32 years. She was the guiding light for all of this," Clary said.
"We had no idea in the beginning it would mushroom to what it is today."
At the check presentation ceremony in December, the students were given a pizza party and were given Christmas gifts by Clary and company, which is an annual tradition.
"We're trying to enhance their lives culturally, as well," Clary said, noting that she and her associates have taken the students to ballets, symphonies and museums over the years. "We've done a lot of traveling with them. We've taken them to the state fair. It's a log of good memories."
They all have a savings account at BB&T that we started for them when they were in third grade. We've taken them to plays, the zoo, the General Assembly."
Through the years, Clary and Associates have built close relationships with the children. "We write to them. It's to let them know we care. Because we believe in them," she said. "Some bring their report cards by the office.
"Kids need a pat on the back and a hug. We send letters to their houses about five times a year, saying we're proud of them."
In the next year, as the students prepare for high school graduation, Clary and crew will be providing them with classes on career counseling and managing their money, as well as having presenters from Duke University come in to speak with them.
"Graduation - that will be very emotional," she said. "It's going to mean an awful lot to all of us."
"(Park View High Principal) Ben Taylor and those teachers at Park View have been so cooperative and wonderful to work with. And so have the parents of these children."
"You're taught as a child to give back. That's what life is all about - helping others. This community has been good to our company. We've been very blessed. And we are honored to do this."