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EastSide Charter School celebrates $1 million donation from Barclays

Leadership with Barclays US Bank and Wilmington’s EastSide Charter school pose with the $1 million donation
Delaware Public Media
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Leadership with Barclays US Bank and Wilmington’s EastSide Charter school pose with the $1 million donation

Wilmington’s EastSide Charter school received a $1 million donation from Barclays US Bank this week.

The donation marks the continuation of a two-decade relationship between the school and the bank that goes much deeper than financial support.

Contributor Larry Nagengast takes a closer look at that relationship and what the latest influx of funding will do for EastSide Charter.

CEO of EastSide Charter School Aaron Bass discussing the $1 million donation from Barclays US Bank

Mentoring makes a difference, and so does money. That was the message Monday at EastSide Charter School in Wilmington’s northeast corner, as Barclays US Consumer Bank celebrated 20 years of mentoring EastSide students and announced a $1 million grant to support the mentoring program and help fund construction of the school’s new STEM Hub.

The gathering outside the school drew the usual suspects for check presentations – all three members of Delaware’s Congressional delegation, Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki and a couple of state legislators – but the attention-getter among the speakers wasn’t any of the politicos. Rather, it was Naseem Matthews, a 2016 graduate of the K-8 school, who described his experience with his mentor, retired lawyer Charles McDowell, CEO of the EastSide Charter Foundation, the school’s nonprofit fundraising arm.

What started as a one-hour-a-week session with McDowell during the school year blossomed into an ongoing relationship, something the student enjoyed so much that it continued into the summers, when McDowell would take him on nature walks and teach him the basics of golfing. They remained in contact while Matthews was at Howard High School, graduating in 2020.

“He’s helped me really develop into the person I am today by providing me with that wisdom, guidance, and knowledge on narrowing down what my career path would be and how to be the best version of myself,” Matthews said.

Since graduating from Howard, Matthews has held community outreach positions with two electrical contracting businesses, Hatzel & Buehler and Battaglia Electric, while attending Wilmington University. His goal now is to continue his current path, trying to inform young people that there are well-paying career opportunities in the construction trades. Matthews also mentors at EastSide, and plans to continue doing so.

“Mentoring matters,” he said. “You’re changing a life one day at a time.”

Starting the Barclays-EastSide connection

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Senator Tom Carper speaking at the Barclays US Bank-EastSide Charter school event

Echoing that view was Jocelyn Stewart, a retired Barclays executive who is now chairman of EastSide’s board of directors. She recalled her first visit to the school in 2002, when it was housed in a building on Thatcher Street, about a mile south of the current site, on a day when water pipes burst inside, forcing the staff to quickly take emergency steps to keep the students safe. That experience showed her the dedication of EastSide’s team and prompted her to involve Barclays employees in a mentoring program.

“Soon we had 100 Barclays colleagues coming here every week,” she said, “starting an incredible 20-year partnership.”

One of those colleagues was Denny Nealon, who spent a year mentoring as he rose through Barclays’ ranks. Now he’s the company’s CEO. “Mentors feel just as rewarded as the kids do. Mentors enjoy it and want to keep doing it,” he said.

Barclays’ alliance with EastSide is a component of the company’s workforce development strategy, which also includes partnerships with Delaware State University, Delaware Technical Community College, Tech Impact, the West End Neighborhood House, the Food Bank of Delaware, the NERDIT Foundation and the REACH Riverside redevelopment project.

“We use our resources to create thriving, inclusive communities. Our emphasis less on skill development, and more on giving people the confidence they need to be successful,” Nealon said.

Aaron Bass, EastSide’s CEO, said Barclays now provides the 474-student school with 80 mentors, with each one volunteering an hour a week. In addition, he said, EastSide board members and alumni and Chemours employees volunteer as mentors.

Also participating in Monday’s event was U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, who advocated for passage of the state law enabling the opening of charter schools in 1995 when he was Delaware’s governor and established the Delaware Mentoring Council, which challenged adults to help young people throughout the state realize their potential. Carper took his support of mentoring seriously, mentoring a youth named Daryl for several years and keeping in touch with him ever since.

“I believe we all have something positive to contribute to the youth in our communities – be it support, counsel or unconditional friendship. The person who gets probably the most out of it though is the mentor. Mentoring costs nothing, yet reaps so many benefits,” Carper told Delaware Public Media via email.

In addition to providing mentors for its students, Barclays has assisted EastSide in many other ways, Bass said. Among its most notable contributions was a $600,000 grant, plus volunteer hours, several years ago to upgrade the athletic field and playground area behind the school. Both the field and the playground are open for community use outside of school hours.

Building the STEM Hub

While saluting Barclays for supporting EastSide with mentors, Bass, Stewart and McDowell offered appropriate thanks when Nealon announced that the bank was awarding the school a $1 million grant that will cover some costs of the mentoring program but will go primarily toward construction of the new STEM Hub.

“It will be a community facility that also meets the needs of our student body,” McDowell said.

The overall price tag for the construction project is more than $22 million. About $12 million has been raised already, primarily through grants of $5 million from the state and $4 million from Chemours, whose name will go on the building. A combination of tax credits, loans and additional fundraising will cover the rest of the costs, McDowell said.

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Delaware Public Media
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EastSide Charter School students holding the Barclays' check

EastSide expects to wrap up financing details in December and break ground for the STEM Center, to be built on the school’s parking lot, by the end of the year, Bass said. Construction should be complete by the start of the 2024-25 school year, and possibly sooner, he said.

The STEM Hub will provide science classroom and lab facilities for EastSide students, a computer lab, a maker space and meeting rooms for school and community use. New classrooms would replace the temporary structures now used by middle school students. Also included in the project is a cafeteria expansion and a connection to the existing school building.

EastSide has already arranged a partnership with the Wilmington Public Library, which would manage the STEM Hub on evenings and weekends, giving the community access to the computer labs, maker space and meeting rooms. While the details must still be worked out, EastSide officials envision the STEM Hub as the site of career fairs, job training and other services that would benefit residents of nearby neighborhoods.

In anticipation of the construction start, EastSide has moved its middle school students to classroom space at the Teen Warehouse, a social-recreational-education center about a mile south of the school. They will continue attending classes there until the STEM Hub is ready to open.

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Larry Nagengast, a contributor to Delaware First Media since 2011, has been writing and editing news stories in Delaware for more than five decades.