Don McGehee, a retired juvenile probation officer, has been volunteering in the Nashville community for more than 50 years. In 1993, he started a school-wide program at two inner-city elementary schools called "I am somebody" that promotes self-esteem and builds character in young students.
The program focuses on the value of diverse abilities and on trying to be the best that one can be. All children have the opportunity to prove themselves in at least one of the nine components of the program. These components are: academics, altruism, art, athletics, attitude, character, creativeness, music, and perseverance.
An assembly at the beginning of the school year kicks-off the program and excites children about participating. Throughout the school year, Mr. McGehee goes into the classrooms during school hours and speaks to one grade each week about the nine components of the program. He uses examples from his own personal experience and those of noteworthy role models who have persevered to be the best they could be.
Mr. McGehee brings in snacks and plays games with the students. One exercise he does with kindergarten and first-graders explores the definitions of altruism and perseverance. Each meeting, the students are asked to define the words. The first child to define each word gets $1.00. The student gives the dollar to the teacher and when the class accumulates $30.00 this way, they decide how to spend it.
At the end of the school year, a full assembly is held in which each child receives an award for the component(s) their teachers saw improvement in. The awards are given by positive role models from the local community and each student has the opportunity to cross the stage and accept his or her award. Tennessee Governor Don Sundquist personally attends each ceremony.
Mr. McGehee provides the majority of the funding for the program, which amounts to about $1,000 for each school of 300 to 400 students. He receives donations from PTA and individual parents. Mr. McGehee has also provides money for school field trips when needed. He has made himself available to advise anyone wishing to start a similar program at other schools.