Community Partners

Dade Student Finds Her Future Inside Mobile Tech XPerience

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

It was a pivotal day for 8th grader Asija Woodson. There she was stepping foot inside the Dallas City of Learning Mobile Tech XPerience, the retrofitted RV that’s a technology fountain of inspiration for middle and high school students. It was early August and 13-year-old Woodson participated in Dade Tech Day at Billy Earl Dade Middle School, a DCoL Turn Up! event organized by Big Thought.

She walked inside the MTXP and immediately went to work developing computer graphics, learning computer coding, programming Lego sumo wrestlers, experimenting with robotics.

For Woodson, these weren’t mere school day activities: “I felt optimistic because I feel like I can further myself into a career trying some of the things I did that day,” she says while sitting inside the Dade auditorium.

The MTXP proved influential, a rolling treasure chest of ideas for building a future. “I just thought about myself in regards to thinking of a major when I apply for college,” she says. “Robotics has a lot to do with me maybe pursuing a career in engineering.”

Woodson admits these recurring thoughts aren’t new. Her family is diligently encouraging her to go into that field. She was even in a robotics class while in elementary school. But being inside that RV was an epiphany. Suddenly, it all clicked.

“There is a difference between family telling me and actually doing it,” she says. “It has inspired me. This really makes a difference. I can see it now.“

Photo by Can Turkyilmaz @turk_studio


Big ThoughtDade Student Finds Her Future Inside Mobile Tech XPerience

Big Thought’s James Adams Becomes Principal Role Model at Charles Rice

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

We need role models, especially today as the world becomes over-burdened by too many people, too much polarization, and too many mixed messages. Kids, now more than ever, need role models. That is particularly true for minority kids from under-resourced families and communities. For them, role models are crucial.

Enter James Adams. Adams, Big Thought’s Programs Manager, spent Oct. 11 as Principal for a Day at Charles Rice Learning Center in South Dallas. He was part of the Dallas ISD Principal for a Day project that brings together community leaders into schools across the district. Adams’ school day bustled with activities, from his assembly-rousing Harambe warm-up to parent conferences.

“He’s around children and he has a love for children,” says Alpher Garrett-Jones, Principal at Charles Rice Learning Center. “His interaction with the kids is great. I loved Harambe. He sat in on some parent conferences with me. He has a great voice for reasoning. We want to do the fun things, but sometimes you have to do the serious stuff. I am hands-on and I love that about James.”

But Adams’ involvement with Charles Rice Learning Center digs much deeper than an 8-hour day on campus armed with a tie and a microphone. Adams aims to close the opportunity gap that disproportionately affects under-resourced children. Charles Rice Learning Center, a Big Thought partner for nine years, is a 69 year old school (opened in 1947) with 578 students in Pre-kindergarten to 5th grade, 98 percent of which are designated as economically disadvantaged.

Here’s another significant statistic: Charles Rice Learning Center is 78 percent black boys, according to Principal Jones. Jones, a 32-year educator who has spent the last nine years as Principal of Charles Rice, understands the role model power of a successful black man serving as Principal for a Day.

“We have to hook them in,” she says. “We have to give them something. Trying to get male volunteers is really difficult. Getting black male volunteers is most difficult. We need that visibility. They need to see that black men aren’t just here to chastise them. They need that different type of presence.”

For Adams, Charles Rice was like coming home. No, he didn’t grow up in South Dallas. He’s a native of Lake Charles, Louisiana. But “it was like being home again,” he says. “The staff and students were accommodating and engaging. Students were eager to share their gifts and stories about their community.”

That sense of community, of unwavering dedication to teaching, nurturing and collaborating, has served Charles Rice well. Yes, there are obstacles and limitations. Jones says the resources for after-school clubs are hardly plentiful. The 72-member choir does meet on a daily basis, but other than that Monday is the only day of widespread club activity. Jones says teachers volunteer for two hours to sponsor the garden, TAC (sewing), ballet, tap, jazz, art, debate, and orators clubs. CRLC works with Dallas ISD on a chess club, which the district sponsors.

In 2013, Big Thought joined forces with CRLC for two special projects. The Broken Pieces project encouraged kids to gather broken glass and broken windows, then put them back together as art. The message – relationships can be broken and they can be put back together. Also, the William Sidney Pittman project had children researching the noted architect born in Alabama who came to Texas in 1913 and built temples, churches and chapels in Dallas, Fort Worth, Waxahachie and Houston. Pittman died in Dallas in 1958.

Pittman was a role model. He embodied the Charles Rice Learning Center pillars – respect, responsibility, trustworthiness, citizenship and caring. The school itself regularly exemplifies those pillars. According to a December 2015 Dallas Observer article, CRLC is clearly recognized as a neighborhood “local gem” with a “reputation for quality.” In Dallas ISD’s 2013-2015 School Effectiveness Index, Charles Rice Learning Center earned a score of 59, which is exemplary. That rating put CRLC at the top rank of Dallas ISD elementary schools.

You can clearly see the attention to the kids, from the assemblies to the martial arts gym classes. The first assembly highlighted a hilarious show from those outrageous and loveable clowns Slappy and Monday. The second assembly featured Adams’ encore Harambe chant-along and a presentation by Mr. Blue Shoes (nee Michael Dyson). Dyson, a local guitarist, performer and blues music expert, gets kids excited about playing guitar while teaching them the rich history of the blues.

After Mr. Blue Shoes had the children clapping, hollering and laughing, it was time for pictures. The CRLC choir members posed with Mr. Blue Shoes and his cool guitars. Adams was immediately summoned to be part of the pics. He hopped onto the stage, beamed a toothy smile and embraced his elementary-aged friends. Role models always have time for warm photos.

Photo by Mario Tarradell/Big Thought

Big ThoughtBig Thought’s James Adams Becomes Principal Role Model at Charles Rice

DaVerse One Line Wonders Stir Audience Emotions

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

The 12th season of DaVerse Lounge splashed onto Life in Deep Ellum Friday, Oct. 7. We welcomed 358 guests, from readers to receivers, for the 3-hour emotional literacy love fest.

Among the array of spoken word poets we watched five performers do a little freestylin’. That always stirs up plenty of excitement among the audience.

But so do the words, because words are powerful. So let’s take a look at a dozen One Line Wonders and relive the magic of the evening and the potency of the sentiments.

“This love stuff sticks with you forever like tattoos”
– A lovesick manifesto written as a poem that shot straight to the soul.

“I’m done with your abuse, your burden, and your desire to use me…I can’t hate anyone that I don’t care about anymore”
– Truly potent, nerve-rattling piece about escaping a toxic relationship.

“I am what I am; I am me”
– Simple words about self-empowerment that strike a universal chord.

“The freedom not to be trapped behind the man I am”
– Proof that fixing the man in the mirror is a pathway to the stars.

“You made me who I am today because I know who not to be”
– Be independent, not a statistic, and learn from those around you.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t pretend for you anymore”
– A dysfunctional relationship leads to freedom, self-realization, and self-determination

“We went from chains, to ropes, to now bullies”
– The news of the day, police brutality against black men, via heavy, thought-provoking words.

“You traded heartache for hope, hunger for hard work”
– The plight of foreigners learning a new language as a ticket to US prosperity.

“I understand that we need to speak, but some of us can’t because we are too meek”
– Stop the bullying, and always make the bullied strong.

“Our lives are mosaics made up of pieces holding a story”
– A dramatic declaration about hopes and dreams.

“Sometimes I just want to shake the love out of us”
– When a relationship is slowly dying you’ll try anything to resuscitate it.

“You and peanuts have a lot in common – I love you so much but you are so bad for me”
– Toxic love tastes good, but then you must swallow the poison.

DaVerse Lounge thanks TACA, Dallas Mavericks, State Farm, Liberty Burger, and the M.R. & Evelyn Hudson Foundation for their generous support.

Photos by Alan Gann




Big ThoughtDaVerse One Line Wonders Stir Audience Emotions

Fossil Channels Cardboard Challenge To Fit Dallas Trinity River

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

The imagination doesn’t need expensive materials or professional workmanship. All it needs is the freedom to be creative.

A little creativity could take on anything, even the expanse at the foot of Dallas’ Trinity River. That’s where the Fossil Foundation, a longtime Big Thought partner, comes in. They invited kids to Fossil’s Trinity Cardboard Innovation Challenge on Sept. 29, 2016 at the Ronald Kirk Pedestrian Bridge, which overlooks the river.

The late afternoon event gathered youth with artistic minds and turned them loose on tables full of Fossil tins, leather scraps, recycled cardboard boxes, milk cartons, paper towel tubes, Styrofoam, colorful tissue paper, poster tubes, shoeboxes, Ritz cracker boxes, lots of paint, and so much more. Their challenge: Design a structure, or more than one, that beautifies and functionalizes the Trinity River corridor.

“Your idea is just as worthy as anybody else’s,” says Jessi Moore, Fossil Foundation Specialist. “You can be creative with the materials you have on hand. This is such a hot topic, what to do with the Trinity corridor. It’s the importance of creative play and sharing your ideas. They want kids to be part of this conversation.”

The idea for Fossil’s Trinity Cardboard Innovation Challenge comes from the heartwarming and Internet-buzzing Caine’s Arcade story. Caine Monroy from East Los Angeles was 9 years old in 2012 when he decided to build a completely DIY cardboard arcade in his dad’s used auto parts store. His dream was to have people visit and play at his arcade.

Caine, who wasn’t having much luck getting customers for his makeshift arcade, was awestruck when a filmmaker named Nirvan Mullick not only walked into the store and actually play at his arcade, but he was so fascinated that he created an 11-minute documentary dubbed Caine’s Arcade. The film became an Internet sensation with more than 1 million views, garnered Caine $240,000 in donated college money, and prompted the start of a nonprofit organized named Imagination Foundation.

To date more than 500,000 kids nationally and internationally have engaged in DIY projects via the Global Cardboard Challenge, yet another amazing byproduct of the film.

So our own Dallas youth, cheered on by fellow Big Thought partners All Stars Project, SPARK! and Dallas Teacher Residency, all of which were in the house, got to cutting, painting and gluing. This was all about the educational uplift of creative play, yet another way to close the opportunity gap that disproportionately affects youth from under-resourced areas in the city.

Cruz Rendon, 18, a member of the Student African American Brotherhood Brother to Brother chapter at Mountain View College in Dallas, designed and constructed a stage that goes over the river. He would carefully take a charcoal-colored Fossil tin and suspend it over his homemade river, trees, and grassy area. The engineering required some thought, he admitted, but he was determined to make it work.

“I studied theater in high school and I feel like this bridge needs more entertainment, more arts,” he said. “Doing this is much more fun and really gets you thinking outside the box. This gives you a primal sense of creating.”

Isabel Adams, 13, was also hard at work a few tables down. She never looked up as she answered questions. She was engrossed in her tower apartments design. “I like doing arts,” she said, “and you can be extra creative with this.”

Two days later Fossil Foundation shared pictures of the event’s artworks on social media. The results: Colorful, innovative, imaginative, and beautifully DIY. Self-expression and creativity know no bounds.

Photo by Mario Tarradell










Big ThoughtFossil Channels Cardboard Challenge To Fit Dallas Trinity River

Giving Makes Us Feel Good: The Art of Philanthropy

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Giving makes us feel good. That isn’t a simplistic statement, or one intended to cajole fists full of donations. It’s truth, scientifically proven truth.

A New York Times story from December 2015 analyzes the “feel-good school of philanthropy,” which falls into two baskets of motivation. There is effective altruism, which uses hardcore scientific data to calculate and show people exactly how to ensure the impact of each dollar they contribute.

Then we have the emotional high of giving, of finding heartfelt satisfaction in improving the lives of others through persistent financial support. That high is good for the soul.

“Emotion may also make altruism healthier,” writes Jamil Zaki. “Generosity not only makes givers feel good, but reduces their stress level and even extends their lives.”

Which brings us to North Texas Giving Day, the annual local celebration of philanthropy that begins at 6 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 22, and ends as the clock chimes midnight. NTGD is your chance to support Big Thought.

At Big Thought, our goal is to bridge the opportunity gap by bringing quality, imagination-based programming to 150,000 under-resourced students across 433 sites in Dallas. We do this everyday with the top-of-mind realization that every child deserves a great education.

Together with our many partners, here are some of the enriching programs we provide:

Dallas City of Learning – A public-private citywide partnership with the City of Dallas and Dallas ISD to ensure all students have access to summer learning opportunities that stems summer learning loss. In the course of three years, with the help and guidance of approximately 150 partners, the DCoL initiative provided programming at over 100 locations, serving approximately 50,000 students.

Creative Solutions – A partnership with the Dallas County Juvenile Department and Southern Methodist University to create performing and visual arts programs for disengaged youth in the juvenile system and lower the recidivism rate. Since its inception in 1994, Creative Solutions has helped 12,000 students find their way back after being convicted of a crime and experiencing probation.

Learning Partners – An initiative that provides public school educators with access to thousands of imaginative, high-quality programs and field trips to help teachers bring learning to life in the classroom. In 2015, nearly 83,000 students benefitted from Learning Partners with more than 1.5 million total hours of programming.

DaVerse Lounge – A cultural movement that’s a partnership between Big Thought and Journeyman Ink with generous support from TACA. DaVerse Lounge creator Will Richey is the mastermind behind this spoken word program that empowers youth by giving them a voice. DaVerse Lounge events, coupled with the DaVerse Works poetry clubs and curriculum in schools, take place at Life in Deep Ellum. This year we have 6 shows – Oct. 7, Nov. 4, Dec. 2, Feb. 3, March 3, and April 7.

See all that giving can do? So whether you are fueled by the emotion or the science, the end results are the same. Your contribution will make a huge difference in the lives of others. Giving is definitely good.




Big ThoughtGiving Makes Us Feel Good: The Art of Philanthropy

Summer Thanks for Another Successful Dallas City of Learning Season

By Mario Tarradell, Public Relations & Marketing Manager

Summer isn’t officially over yet. That’s right, you can still wear shorts and flip-flops to the cool pool party. But kids are back in school and Dallas City of Learning is in wrap-up and assess mode.

So this is a huge thank you to our neighborhood partners, to the Dallas ISD Summer Achievers Academy, to another triumphant Creative Solutions summer program at Southern Methodist University, to great Library Live! programming, to so many engaged students, to the many community sites that opened their doors to children, and to the tireless Big Thought and Dallas City of Learning staff that hauled swag, laptops, banners, signage, and welcoming smiles. Big Thought, with the help and guidance of approximately 60 partners, delivered or supported programming at over 100 locations serving approximately 16,000 students.

The 2016 Dallas City of Learning program numbers are still trickling in and final tabulations are in calculation, but we do have preliminary estimates that already underscore an active and successful season for our kids:

  • 5 Turn Up! Events with 4,900 student participants
  • 42 Pop Up! and Mobile Tech XPerience Events with 2,500 student participants
  • 1,776 Dallas Summer Achievers Academy students at 8 sites
  • 80 students in our Creative Solutions summer program at Southern Methodist University
  • 36 sites for Turn Up!, Pop Up! and MXP Events
  • 46 sites in the DCoL Neighborhood Resource Initiative with 3,150 students served
  • 46 Neighborhood Partners
  • 29 Library Live! sites with 1,600 students served

We want to extend another shout-out of gratitude to our super dedicated neighborhood partners, many of which were spotlighted on our Big Thought and Dallas City of Learning websites. If you missed those spotlights, here’s a quick recap:

“Our participation in Dallas City of Learning is exposing our scholars to engaging robotics programs, radio and TV production, as well as enhancing their reading comprehension skills,” says KD Brown, Program Manager, Frazier Revitalization. Read the Frazier story.

“My vision for one aspect of the future of education is that it becomes a platform to support every child to be connected to quality after school programs and developmental experiences,” says Antoine Joyce, City Leader, All Stars Project of Dallas. Read the All Stars story.

“Summer learning is extremely important because it helps kids continue to work on their academic skills without missing a beat,” says Lori Carey, Community Engagement Manager at SPARK! Read the SPARK! story.

“Summer provides students a chance to explore interests and access opportunities that aren’t available in a classroom setting,” says Janet Morrison, Director, EAGLE Scholars. Read the EAGLE Scholars story.

“Our youth enjoy going to the DCoL website and finding ArtsVision programs on the site,” says Fran Jefferey Anderson, Artistic Director, ArtsVision Performing and Visual Arts Program. “They think it is cool that someone thinks enough of them to create something so ‘neat’ as DCoL.” Read the ArtsVision story.

“Summer learning is extremely important because it highlights the biggest tool we have to fight poverty – education!” says Reverend Donald Parish, Youth Pastor, True Lee Missionary Baptist Church. Read the True Lee story.

“Our vision and passion at Bishop’s Camp for the future of education is to teach the child as a whole,” says Jessica Bell, Program Director, Bishop’s Camp. Read the Bishop’s Camp story.

“Partnering with Dallas City of Learning enables us to reach a wider audience,” says JaMonica Washington, Youth Development Director, Lakewest Family YMCA, “and helps the teens find different things that may interest them from a variety of different activities.” Read the Lakewest YMCA story.

“Summer learning programs have the potential to help children and youth improve their academic learning and other outcomes,” says Keith Vinson, Vice President of Operations, YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas. Read the Moorland and Oak Cliff YMCA story.

“The vision and passion for the future of education is to create lifelong conservationist and environmental stewards in every student,” says Shannon Linton, Youth Learning Supervisor, Dallas Zoo. Read the Dallas Zoo story.

“Dallas City of Learning is an ideal partner for Dallas Youth Poets,” says Joaquin Zihuatanejo, Founder, Dallas Youth Poets. “Together we can spread the word about each other’s movements. And both movements exist to empower youth.” Read the Dallas Youth Poets story.  

“Every child – every student – deserves an education that will prepare him or her for the future,” says Keith Mondy, Executive Director, Project Still I Rise.“ Read the Project Still I Rise story.

“Minds are like plants that need to be watered,” says Audrey Turner, Assistant Program Specialist, The Writer’s Garret. Read The Writer’s Garret story.

“We consider education to be an inalienable right and with it a surety of equal and equitable access for all children,” says Ronald Oliver, Director, Fine Arts Nth. Read the Fine Arts Nth story.

“The vision for Tackle Summer Slide is that students, families and communities have access to the knowledge, resources and opportunities to close the reading achievement gap,” says Jonathan Feinstein, Director of Community Engagement, Commit! Partnership. Read the Tackle Summer Slide story.

“My vision for education is to be able to get each child outside to experience the power of nature first hand,” says Kayleigh Medeiros, Education Manager, Trinity River Audubon Center. Read the TRAC story.

We thank our many Dallas City of Learning donors. For a complete list of DCoL donors, please visit

Photo by Can Turkyilmaz @turk_studio

Big ThoughtSummer Thanks for Another Successful Dallas City of Learning Season