August 7, 2018

LA middle school teacher finds the right tools for motivating his class to give back

With help from WE Volunteer Now, Ed Gray and his students lead beach cleanups and homeless outreach

The City School teacher Ed Gray and his students led a cleanup service project at the Santa Monica beach.

As his students fan out across the warm sand of the Santa Monica Beach, filling buckets and bags with discarded Styrofoam, plastic and other trash, Los Angeles teacher, Ed Gray, looks on proudly. The enthusiasm and excitement he sees in the young people volunteering to take time out of their weekend to clean up the neighborhood and give back to the community serves as a testament to his philosophy of service: that the best thing you can give is your time.

Originally from Massachusetts, Ed spent years bringing service into his classroom, seeing it help transform students into leaders and advocates. Three years ago, when he picked up and moved his family to California to teach Grade 6, 7, and 8 students in West Los Angeles, he wasn’t sure how his passion for community projects would be received.

During his first project—a community cleanup in the shadow of Interstate 10 in West Los Angeles—a student stopped Ed in his tracks by asking, “Why are we doing this? This is what my maid is for.”

Ed changed tactics. Instead of dictating what service projects his students did, he asked them to take the lead. When he reached out to WE and started a WE club—now numbering nearly 50 students in the school of 350—things took off.

“Before you knew it, we had speakers coming, resources at our fingertips, and when we went to WE Day that took everything to a whole new level,” he says.

With the freedom to choose their own projects, the right motivation and tools and resources from WE Volunteer Now, students have followed their passions and given more of their time to those in need. This led them to Skid Row to help people living on the streets, and to the beach to clean up the community and protect the environment.

Actress and Allstate Foundation Good Starts Young Ambassador Monique Coleman, right, joined The City School for their beach cleanup day. Photo by Nelson Lee

"It's important to know from a young age that your service matters." — Allstate Foundation Good Starts Young Ambassador Monique Coleman

Whatever the project, above all else they’ve focused on giving their time. It’s a guiding principle that Monique Coleman, actress and Allstate Foundation Good Starts Young Ambassador, lives by. When she heard what the WE club members at The City School had done—providing food to those who are hungry in their community and fighting plastic waste—she was eager to help. She joined them as part of an Allstate Foundation-sponsored WE Volunteer Now speaking tour to offer some guidance from her years of service and pitch in for their Santa Monica beach cleanup.

“It’s important to know from a young age that your service matters,” Monique says.

Through WE Volunteer Now, the spark has been lit and the philosophy of service has taken on a momentum of its own for The City School students. “How do you make an impact?” he muses thoughtfully. “For each other, for the school, community and the globe, we can only give our time.”

Together with partners like Allstate Foundation Good Starts Young, WE is empowering youth to change the world, one impact at a time. Join the next generation of change-makers and make a difference today: Take action.

The WE Day Special airs Friday, Aug. 17, 2018, at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT on ABC.

Jesse Mintz

A speech writer, communications specialist and lover of storytelling, Jesse Mintz is happiest using his pen to inspire and educate. He believes everyone has a story to share and is eager to hear yours.