It’s hard to find a silver lining to the recession that has battered the country, but Susie Lee, the board president of Communities in Schools, thinks that hard times have helped reset our schools’ priorities. “It has been an opportunity to focus on what drives the vitality of a community, and, quite honestly, it’s the education of young people. The State of Nevada has woken up to realize that, not only money, but an investment of time and resources into the education of our young is what is going to improve our state.”
Two years ago, Lee, 46, took on the volunteer leadership role at Communities in Schools, a nonprofit dropout-prevention program identifying at-risk students and providing them with the support they need to make it to graduation. These needs can range from educational to medical to financial to even the basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter.
Since Lee joined the board, there’s already been marked improvement: 94 students now drop out of our schools daily, down from 120 in 2010. Lee and her team recently received national recognition for Project Reach, an after-school tutoring program created in conjunction with the Clark County School District and the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority. The organization’s second annual Harvest for Hope—a family event that included a tasting menu from six Cosmopolitan restaurants—raised $280,000. “We were sold out and had to turn people away,” Lee says. “It’s a great statement on the support of the community.”
Lee has been involved in nonprofits for many years. In the mid-’90s, she was a founding director for both the Mobilized Assistance and Shelter for the Homeless (MASH) Crisis Intervention Unit and After-School All-Stars, a program that serves 6,000 local students. She was president of Nevada Women’s Philanthropy, and she is the superintendent for CCSD’s English Language Learner advisory committee.
It’s Lee’s way of paying it forward. Growing up in a large family in Ohio with a father who traveled a lot, Lee relied on the support of her own community. “The role of that outside mentor was so vital to me,” she says of the teachers, coaches and others who made a difference in her life.
In the spring, Communities in Schools will launch The Circle, a program for young professionals willing to commit to monthly contributions. Incentives for joining include a dream lap around the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the opportunity to work directly with students. This is where the real connections are made, Lee says.
“Education is the number-one issue facing our state as it pertains to so many things—most important, to economic development. We want to look at the people who may become our next board members so that as they grow professionally, they grow with Communities in Schools,” Lee says.
CCSD Superintendent Dwight Jones recently predicted that Clark County will be the fastest-improving school district in the country. With Lee at the helm of Communities in Schools, this could very well be a reality.