It was just last June when Mark Hecker, Ed.M.'09, stood before the HGSE community at convocation delivering the Student Speaker Address. In it Hecker urged his fellow graduates to "get to work," and in the short time since commencement, he has done just that.
Now living in Washington, D.C., Hecker is the founder and president of Reach Incorporated, a nonprofit organization focused on improving literacy skills by offering struggling adolescent readers an opportunity to tutor in high-need D.C. elementary schools. While still a year away from launching the pilot program of the nonprofit, Hecker spends his time designing the curriculum, networking, and fundraising. "I'm happy with how things are going, but there's still a long way to go," he says.
Reach, Inc., will train, supervise, and compensate high school students providing academic support services in elementary schools. Hecker believes that society has relatively low expectations for struggling teens. "In my work with teenagers, they tend to respond to the expectations that are given them," he says.
Hecker came to the Harvard Graduate School of Education with the goal of building a nonprofit organization. Prior to this, he worked as a social worker in Washington, D.C. where he earned the 2007 Social Worker of the Year award. Also a former teacher, Hecker focused on teens, and on working in communities and with youth facing incarceration. It was these experiences that inspired him to reach higher, specifically to train struggling adolescent readers.
"There are not a lot of good programs at the high school level," he says, noting the importance of treating teenagers as though they can help rather than like they need help. "This is a unique model where the teenagers are accountable for real outcomes that aren't all about them. They are social beings, so when we make it about other people, then you have a chance at making an actual change."
Hecker credits classes with Associate Professor Monica Higgins, Lecturer Lee Teitel, and Harvard Business School Professor Chris Stone as being influential to his nonprofit design. But, he says, it was his classmates that played the biggest role in helping him to formulate his nonprofit plan. In fact, Hecker advises the Ed School's current class to "soak up all the knowledge, but figure out who is doing what you are doing and find ways to make the connections."
Additionally, Hecker encourages students to network with people doing work that interests them outside of HGSE. "It's one thing to talk about it, but also one thing to talk about it with someone who's doing it," he says.
Hecker's blog is an important piece of the Reach, Inc.'s website where he candidly shares the trials and tribulations of getting a nonprofit off the ground. Hecker admits that he decided a blog would not only be a good way to keep people updated on the progress, but also to provide a forum for people interested in doing similar work. "I had no idea what I was getting into," he says of starting the nonprofit. "It can be hard to find role models of people who are starting out, so you are making it up as you go along."