How Citizen Schools Helped My Student and My Family: A Parent's Story

This post was adapted from the speech that Koren Underdue, a Durham business owner and parent of a Citizen Schools student, delivered at the Expanding Opportunity event in Durham, North Carolina.  12814719703_78c8b624e6_z

Citizens Schools truly helps bridge the gap between our educational system and the real world. It teaches our young people (who I must remind you, are our future business leaders) skill sets that they may not necessarily learn in the classroom, and unfortunately, some not even at home. They focus on core success principles and values that our children can apply to every aspect of their lives. This program allows them to not just discover their dreams and aspirations, but achieve them at a much higher level than some could have ever imagined. As a parent, it is such an honor to share my story and my great experience with the Citizens Schools program in Durham, North Carolina.

I remember when my husband and I found out that we were getting a new addition to our family. No, it wasn’t a new baby; it was my first cousin’s daughter, Denaisha. My sweet, dear cousin had asked if we could help raise her 11-year-old at the time. Instantaneously, my husband and I said, "No problem," and we vowed we would care for her like she was our very own.

So in addition to our two small children, we now have a sixth grader. We thought, what are we going to do? (Side note: my biggest fear in raising kids is raising pre-teens and teenagers.)  On the other hand, I just had to imagine what she may have been going through as well. Imagine being a young girl and your life just went through a major transition. Having to move from New Jersey to North Carolina, having to obey and adhere to more rules than ever, and having to start a new school and make new friends – life could be hard.

To make a long story short, we had to enroll her at Neal Middle.  I remember when I first walked through those front doors; I noticed an informational table for Citizen Schools highlighting their previous year’s work and apprenticeship classes. I was so intrigued, and I immediately needed to know more about this program and how I could get my child involved. One thing is for sure, when we recognize a good thing, we jump on it and take advantage of it.


After one week of enrollment in Citizen Schools, we realized that this has been the best decision we made for her by far. Citizen Schools made her transition easy. It allowed her to have fun while learning. She was able to experience and learn about different cultures and walks of life. She was able to have another outlet that allowed her to be creative and expressive while finding innovative ways to expand her horizons.

This is my child’s second year in the program, and the results have been extraordinary. Since the program I have noticed vast changes in Denaisha’s academic and social life. There has been a boost in her confidence and self-esteem levels. She has developed strong leadership and presentation skills that have also contributed to her learning experience in the classroom and the list goes on.

However, now I realize that Citizen Schools is more than an after-school enrichment program, it’s an extension of our family. Just two weeks ago I lost my wonderful and amazing husband and father to my children due to sudden heart failure. During this time it has been extremely difficult for our family. But, I was determined to be here to show our love and appreciation to our Citizen Schools family because they have been a vital part to our family’s success, and also our healing process. Denaisha yearns for her afternoon time with this program, and I now also realize that Citizen Schools also serves as a safe haven for most of our children, including mine.

I am a proud advocate of Citizen Schools and will continue to support them the best way I know how. As a parent and business owner, I value their continued partnership in help raising our successful students to achieve greatness. They continue to add value not in just my child’s life, but our schools, and more importantly our communities. Thank you for your continued support to keep Citizens Schools alive and growing and contributing to our future leaders of America.