Interview: Jennifer Ramming

jens-pic-125x176Today's interview features Jennifer Ramming, co-founder and director of OpenDoors of Asheville. Camp Spring Creek has partnered with Open Doors in the past (read more) and, this summer, four of our campers came to us through this partnership.

From the OpenDoors website: OpenDoors of Asheville connects local children living in multi-generational poverty with an active, individualized network of support, enrichment and education opportunities.  At OpenDoors, we invest in kids who live in poverty so they will learn to invest in themselves and in the end, break the cycle of poverty for themselves and for our community.

Camp Spring Creek: Briefly tell us about how you found yourself in the line of work you're in.

Jennifer Ramming: I was a volunteer in my son's class when he was in the 3rd grade. There were a small group of boys who could not read and the teacher asked me to work with them so that they would stop disrupting the class. They were eager to learn but couldn't access the material. I started to learn about dyslexia through a friend who knew one of the boys. That friend was Dr. Marcy Sirkin who owns the Arden Reading Clinic. She connected me with another colleague, Dr. Deirdre Christy, who assessed this boy and found him to be severely dyslexic and above average IQ. The school assessment showed that he was low IQ. Everyone was surprised! That initial relationship progressed organically over a couple of years as my oldest son’s friendship grew with this boy and his mother and I parented our boys, often together. We became extended family, like you might with a neighbor, though we actually live 10 miles apart. It was a conscious choice, but made possible because our kids were in class together and played on sports teams together. We created an intentional community around this family. This is a case study, which became a model of our school based community outreach and support that my co-founders and I replicated when we officially founded OpenDoors.

CSC: At the end of the day, what is it about OpenDoors of Asheville that puts a smile on your face and motivates you to continue all of the hard work? If you have a specific memory or anecdote to share, we would like to hear that.

JR: There are so many moments of shining joy and hope! One day a middle school boy who I didn't know well, but was the brother of a current OpenDoors student, jumped into the front seat of my car and looked at me earnestly and said, "I want to get an education." He was dead serious, but he was very much in trouble at his public middle school and was thought to be a low performer. It was an incredible insight into what turned out to be quite a gifted profile. This mental picture motivates me every day when I advocate for kids who are labelled as "behavior problems" or having "low ability." I instinctively fight for them as if they were my own. I have a natural propensity to believe that all children have a great deal of potential and I'm grateful for the few teachers I had in my life who did this for me. I'd like to think that I had a lot of potential too, but I was not a successful student until I was in high school.

CSC: Can you tell us about about a need in your community that OpenDoors of Asheville meets which, without donor funding, would otherwise go unmet?

JR: OpenDoors provides a individualized network of support that no other non-profit I know about in the region provides. This includes so many things that many affluent people take for granted, such as transportation, scholarships, Internet access, tutoring, phone service, extracurricular fees and equipment, etc. We use our social and professional networks to help OpenDoors families. Most of the team leaders can make a couple of phone calls to co-workers, friends and neighbors who are attorneys, accountants, or doctors, for example, and make connections that would not be as easy for OpenDoors parents. We use middle class cultural currency and connections to bring resources to the table. We invest in children so that they can learn to invest in themselves.

CSC: In a sky's-the-limit, perfect-wish-world, ten years from now, what would OpenDoors of Asheville look like?

JR: It would be a sustainable, seasoned organization that had a sense of community in its alumni. I hope that many of these kids will go on to be professionals and experts in their fields of interest and make Asheville a better place to live for all of us. We are only limited by our financial and human resources. The sky is truly the limit with these kids.

To learn even more about OpenDoors, check out these full-length articles: Asheville Citizen-Times and The Laurel of Asheville.