Abandoned as an infant, malnourished and diagnosed with failure to thrive, Henry W. Wash (MPA ‘06) almost didn’t get a chance at life. After living in a foster home for seven years, he was finally adopted at age seven. Wash struggled with school and was told he couldn’t learn by a teacher who stuffed him under a desk.
Then, a man named Thurman Mitchell took an interest in mentoring Henry and helped him overcome some of his obstacles and learn to succeed.
When Thurman died in 2000, Wash says he was at a loss.
“I realized that Thurman had put so much of himself into me. He had given me so much and he didn’t get to see me do much with it. I didn’t want to make that mistake again,” Wash said.
The second turning point in Wash’s life came when he tried to go to community college but ran out of money. Thanks to the Henry W. Bloch Scholars program, Wash made it through his associate’s degree at Penn Valley, and then earned his four-year degree in sociology and a minor in black studies at UMKC.
Through the scholarship, Wash met Henry W. Bloch. In getting to know Henry Bloch, Wash found in him a man he deeply admired and wanted to emulate.
“Henry came to my wedding. I have lunch with him at least once a month. And every time I see him he gives me mentorship, guidance and direction,” Wash says. “Henry has given me so much more than money – he’s given me him.”
Wash always felt inspired to help others, but didn’t know how to do it until his Bloch School experience. “The M.P.A. program at the Bloch School really helped me focus my goals and figure out what I was meant to do.”
In 2003, Wash founded High Aspirations, a program designed to serve the social, emotional, academic and spiritual needs of African-American males from ages eight to 18 through structured activity and learning.
“In at-risk communities, conditions like poverty, drugs and violence can sometimes push otherwise good guys into criminal activity, whether they had a propensity for it or not. It’s a matter of survival,” Wash explains.
“Our goal is to use research and innovation to create a program that places these young men on a path toward becoming productive members of society, loving husbands and dutiful fathers.”
So, as Henry W. Bloch has done for Henry W. Wash, so Henry W. Wash is doing for dozens of young men: giving the gift of opportunity. By the end of 2013, High Aspirations expects to have helped more than 60 young men.
“I am first a servant,” Wash says. “I will give what was given to me, what I have become, and what I have to give to the next generation in the hopes that they will do the same, carrying the continuum well into the future.”
Get involved! High Aspirations needs talented, committed volunteers to help them succeed and expand. If you have social media, graphic design, video or marketing skills or can help spread the word via networks like your faith congregation or neighborhood outreach, High Aspirations needs you! Contact Bill Patterson to find out how you can help.
Vital Stats on High Aspiration’s Success:
High Aspirations was originally designed to serve 21 young men, offering a 7-to-1 mentor/mentee ratio. Each participant receives a 10-year commitment from the organization. As mentoring capacity grows, the program will work to serve more young men. Of the original 21 young men involved in the High Aspirations program:
- 15 graduated from high school
- 11 attended or are attending post-secondary school (either a two-year or four-year college)
- 4 are attending high school
- 3 are working full-time
- 2 are serving in the U.S. military