Big Thought Names Amanda Rainey as New Chief Advancement Officer

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Big Thought, one of Dallas’ most respected education nonprofits, announced it has named Amanda Rainey as the organization’s new chief advancement officer. Rainey, who began her new position September 10, will oversee all Big Thought fundraising efforts, as well as its communication and advocacy strategies.

“Amanda is a game changer for our work,” said Byron Sanders, Big Thought President and CEO. “Her vast experience in fundraising for education and youth development organizations makes it clear to us that she truly gets our mission.”

Rainey joins Big Thought after serving as Vice President of Fund Development for Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas, where she lead the organization’s first ever capital campaign. Her expertise in relationship building, cultivation and stewardship comes after more than 10 years leading fundraising and marketing efforts for higher education. She previously served as the Vice President of Advancement at Parker University, the Vice President of Advancement at the University of Dallas and Executive Director of Development at Saint Louis University.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to be joining the Big Thought team,” said Rainey. “There has never been a more important time to empower our youth to become creative leaders in designing their futures.”

This announcement comes as Big Thought prepares to mark its 30th year working to improve education in the Dallas area. Big Thought works with local and national partners to develop in-school and out-of-school-time programming for students in Dallas neighborhoods with the greatest need.

“What’s most exciting about having Amanda join our team is that she not only understands where we’ve been, but also where our new vision is taking us,” said Sanders. “There isn’t a leader more equipped to help us build the relationships and resources we need to close the opportunity gap.”

Big ThoughtBig Thought Names Amanda Rainey as New Chief Advancement Officer

“Let’s Read Together!” 5 Family Literacy Tips

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Ms. Mary Hernandez is the literacy specialist at Big Thought, where she shares her passion for reading with families and students in our programs. Read her advice on how to make reading fun for the whole family! 

Making personalized book crates during a family literacy event at Jubilee Park and Community Center 

  1. Books need a valued place in the home. Find a special way to store and display books, whether it’s a bookshelf, crate, or even a little box. 
  2. “You can’t love what you don’t know.” Expose children to a variety of genres. Help them select their own books based on their interests. 
  3. Public libraries are great resources. There may even be a Little Free Library in your neighborhood! For discounted books, stay tuned for the Scholastic book fair at school. If children are given an allowance, take a trip to Half-Price books, and make it a family shopping stop. 
  4. Read aloud. Listening to or reading books out loud helps expand children’s vocabulary. Encourage older kids to read to their younger siblings. Read together so children can ask you questions about things they hear or say. Dr. Marilyn Jager Adams says, “Reading Aloud with children is known to be the single most important activity for building the knowledge and skills they will eventually require for learning to read.”
  5. Lead by example. Interaction between family members is critical. Children learn from their parents/guardians. They will mirror what they see and value what you value. Demonstrate the importance of reading, by modeling for them.

Ms. Mary’s Favorite Books

Big Thought“Let’s Read Together!” 5 Family Literacy Tips

Summer of Discovery at Trinity River Audubon Center

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By, Elysse Alvarado

Tucked away from the hustle and bustle of downtown Dallas, the Trinity River Audubon Center is the perfect place to take a pause and enjoy a walk in nature. This summer, Pleasant Grove SOARS and Dallas City of Learning flew into session and sparked students’ imaginations through discovery, play, and creativity all while exploring their own backyard.

Students on a trail at Trinity River Audubon Center.The Trinity River Audubon Center is the gateway to the largest urban forest in the U.S. and sits on a former illegal dump site which has been reclaimed as a nature sanctuary with five miles of walking trails, a butterfly garden, and conservation center. While the center has been open since 2008, many Dallasites don’t know this urban oasis exists.Peek at the home of Pleasant Grove SOARS at Trinity River Audubon Center.

Pleasant Grove SOARS wanted to bring awareness to this amazing facility. Summer learner, Valerie, is eleven years old and loved attending camp at the Trinity River Audubon Center. “I didn’t know this was here. I love nature and every day we take walks and learn about it.” This kind of interactive learning is what Big Thought is all about. Program Manager, Sergio García points out that the goal is not only to “engage the whole child but to engage the whole family by sharing new opportunities and new experiences.” A student’s parent explains that her family has never had the chance to explore this area until SOARS. “The kids love being outside and taking walks. We want to come back as a family now.”

Students took advantage of their time at the center by learning about nature through classes on art, science, and tech. From every corner of the Trinity River Audubon Center, views of the surrounding Texas plains can be seen and as a result, inspired many of the projects students created. From painting butterfly murals to dissecting frogs, learners were able to discover more about their environment through hands-on learning.

Elysse AlvaradoSummer of Discovery at Trinity River Audubon Center

Through the Lens: Community Building at Red Bird

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By, Elysse Alvarado

Walk into Southwest Center Mall (or Red Bird Mall as it’s commonly known) on any given day and it is clear to see that this once burgeoning shopping center has lost its spark. With shuttered storefronts and phantom parking lots, it may seem at first glance that there is not much left for visitors to enjoy. But in fact, this mall has flourished into a unique community of its own.


Apart from the few anchor department stores, local businesses are the pulse of what’s left at the mall and what makes it special. Morning walkers make their rounds through the long shopping halls, while store owners set up for the day ahead. And this summer, Red Bird SOARS has returned to provide engaging, summer programming for students. Summer learners are greeted by shop owners as they walk in for camp and the mall itself serves as the backdrop for activities such as photo walks and dance practice. This shopping mall has become more than just a mall, it has evolved into a close-knit community of its own.

Elysse AlvaradoThrough the Lens: Community Building at Red Bird

#ThisIsBigThought – Meet Kiara

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By, Carson Bolding

Kiara Dismuke has been at Big Thought for just over a year. Starting as a Project Manager for Dallas City of Learning last May and then a Program Manager for Thriving Minds After School, she now works as the Manager of Talent and Recruitment.

Kiara points to the opportunities she’s had to grow and learn as one of her favorite parts of working for Big Thought. “I’m all about growth,” she explained. “I believe the sky is the limit, and I like working for an organization that believes that too.”

In her current role, she’s in charge of recruiting new talent into the organization, and she’s leading the effort to collaborate with local colleges and universities to provide students with work-study opportunities at Big Thought. These opportunities will primarily be as site guides for Thriving Minds After School. Since 2011, Thriving Minds has been working to “strategically connect partners and resources across the city to address the specific educational needs of students and families.” The program continues to grow each year, with each program site tailored to the community to provide invaluable out-of-school enrichment to students.  

Thriving Minds site guides provide direct assistance to the site coordinators at each school. They learn the ins and outs of the program, so that they can help ensure that things run smoothly and provide a safe, caring and enriching environment for children.

In addition to spearheading the work-study program, Kiara also leads information sessions every first Monday of the month. These sessions provide information about our various initiatives to individuals and organizations that are interested in working with Big Thought. From Dallas City of Learning to Thriving Minds to Creative Solutions, volunteers have plenty of options for where to invest their time and talents. These handy information sessions provide everything you need to make the best choice!

When asked about her absolute favorite part of working for Big Thought, Kiara says it’s “the community-orientedness of it all. Everybody here has a hand in doing great work for the community.”

Apply here to be a part of the great work being done at Big Thought.


Big Thought#ThisIsBigThought – Meet Kiara

Poetry in Motion: Rail Writers Connects Students to the City through Literacy

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By, Carson Bolding

Dallas City of Learning, a city-wide initiative to promote experiential summer learning, is made possible through a network of partnerships with public and private organizations. Each of these organizations brings new perspectives, ideas, and activities to students all over the city. Throughout the summer, The Writer’s Garret has been an invaluable partner, leading students in a number of activities to put their thoughts and experiences into words.

Aaron Glover, Co-Executive Director, explains that The Writer’s Garret aims to “connect readers and writers through the power of language.” One of their programs, Rail Writers, takes this connection a step further, adding a third group to the mix: riders! Rail Writers began in spring of 2016 with the goal of helping “urban youth find themselves through reading, writing, and exploring communities while riding the rails to notable landmarks in Dallas” (Rail Writers).

SOARS campers from West Dallas and Red Bird had the opportunity to participate in this exciting program. On these day-long field trips, staff from the Writer’s Garret led the kids in writing workshops, drawing from their experiences at various stops in Dallas, such as the Dallas Museum of Art and Klyde Warren Park. After writing poems and stories, they shared them with DART riders at “flash mob readings” at various light rail stops.

Some students teamed up for group performances, including one entitled “If I Was the President…,” where five young poets shared their dreams for the future and invited the audience to reflect on their own dreams. Others brought their own creative flair, incorporating song and dance routines. One student shared his experience on DART, explaining that a mural he had seen while riding the train opened his eyes to a different perspective of Dallas, one outside of his neighborhood of Oak Cliff.

“Our brains are active 365 days a year,” Glover reminds us, emphasizing the importance of summer learning. Programs like Rail Writers teach us that learning doesn’t just happen inside the classroom, and embracing that mindset allows us to be “open, curious, and thoughtful” when approaching the world.

Big ThoughtPoetry in Motion: Rail Writers Connects Students to the City through Literacy