Kids on Point working to close the opportunity gap in Charleston
Todd Abedon (‘09) celebrates 12-year Liberty Fellowship project journey
July 14, 2021
Todd Abedon (‘09), a real estate developer from Rhode Island, was warned to stay away from Charleston in 1994 because the Navy base was closing. He and his wife Emily Abedon (‘15) made the trip anyway.
“We liked Charleston a lot. It reminded us of my hometown in Newport,” Todd said. “We bought our first property in Charleston in 1994 and planted our roots.”
Once established in Charleston, it was important to Todd and Emily to give back to their community. Leaning into their experience in property management and development, they started Operation Home, which initially helped homeowners make emergency repairs, create handicap access and heating and cooling.
“We came up with the concept of offering help to people who wanted and needed assistance fixing their homes or making improvements. Emily truly became the heart and soul of Operation Home. It has expanded its services and is now a successful, self-sustaining organization,” he said.
The Opportunity Gap
It was through the couple’s work with Operation Home that they began to have a deeper understanding of the divides they were seeing in the community. When Todd was accepted to the Liberty Fellowship’s fourth class in 2007, he wanted to come up with a new idea for his Liberty Fellowship project that would help address the systemic inequities they were beginning to understand.
“In Liberty Fellowship, each one of us has to create projects that will help change South Carolina for the better,” Todd said. “I knew I wanted to help kids. And I thought education and academic assistance might be the thing that helps break the cycle for kids experiencing poverty.”
Todd, an avid squash player, thought that maybe the game could help interest kids in programming that would offer academic assistance and support.
“Squash is a tough game. I like to call it ‘athletic chess.’ It requires focus, determination, and a high level of fitness. And once you play it, you're hooked,” he said. “Plus, I knew that there had been an effective model to create squash programs in other cities with equal parts education, athletics and community service. Why not try and bring that concept to Charleston?”
And so began Chucktown Squash in 2009. Todd’s first challenge was to find a location and to reach the kids. He started at the MUSC Wellness Center and working with the school district. The program started developing a following.
“We really didn’t have a home at first. We were just really begging and borrowing, hopping from location to location,” he said. “We started with a group of 16 kids. But what really changed our trajectory was developing a partnership with the College of Charleston.”
On campus, there were already racquetball facilities that could be converted into squash. This new, dedicated location meant the ability to enroll more students in the program. It also led to the involvement of College of Charleston students.
“We are incredibly grateful for our partnership with the College of Charleston. Having a home on campus, we were able to get college students to volunteer and mentor and tutor the kids. We truly started building a community. Not only did it help the kids in the program, but the college kids were learning and benefitting as well. That’s when I started seeing things come full circle and the lives of people involve really change as a result of the experience,” he said.
Kids on Point
With dedicated facilities and a community of support, Chucktown Squash grew into what is now Kids on Point.
Offering year-round support for kids from under-resourced neighborhoods, Kids on Point programming includes academic tutoring and life skills mentorship every weekday, athletic training with an emphasis on health and wellness, social engagement through civic projects and group discussion, and the tools and necessities to stay safe and connected.
“We have learned that exposure to different opportunities leads to imagination of different possibilities and confidence. It’s all inside the kids. They just don’t get many opportunities to explore and grow into things that interest them and drive them,” Todd said.
Kids on Point also offers a summer camp on the College of Charleston campus that serves 100 students. Their year-round programming currently serves about 50 students.
“My daughter didn't really think about graphic design to the level she thought about until she got here,” said Calvin Logan. “So, it's really building a fortress of positivity that can bring out the best in you.”
“They are very helpful. They give us a lot of words of encouragement. Tell us that we can do us and just push us through achievement,” said Jasmine Logan.
Lessons Learned Along the Way
Todd says the program has grown into something deeper than he ever imagined. Although he initially thought college education would be the solution, he now says it’s not that simple.
“It’s great to de-mystify what it’s like to be on a college campus for our kids, especially for those who don’t have any family members that attended college. But what I have learned is that college is not the answer for everyone,” Todd said. “You have to understand what people need and what people want versus trying to give them what you think they need and want.”
And for the Kids on Point students who do enroll in college, there is a lot of support needed once they go away such as tutoring, mentoring, and scholarship funding. Executive Director Lauren Herterich says that the length of commitment to the kids is what makes the program unique and successful.
“It is a long-term commitment to address inequity,” Lauren said. “Building a relationship with their parents at the beginning is very important to us. When our kids join the program, we make a twelve-year commitment to them. We have at least monthly check-ins, and sometimes every two weeks. It’s really a lifelong relationship.”
Impact of COVID-19
Once the pandemic hit last year, regular programming was paused. Over the summer, Kids on Point delivered each student “camp in a bag” with academic and other activities to keep busy and entertained while in quarantine.
When fall arrived, they tried virtual programming.
“Virtual programming was really difficult,” Lauren said. “There was a decline in the academic support we were able to provide. So, we developed a plan with the College of Charleston to get the kids back on-site safely as soon as possible.”
Kids on Point was able to help the kids begin to return to their facilities last October. At that time, 75% of kids were still participating virtually. All of the kids were able to return on-site in January 2021.
The obstacles COVID-19 presents also comes with some opportunities to deepen programming. For example, they have reduced class sizes of 10 students per grade and hired more staff.
“Although there are a lot more logistics and increased expenses involved with the smaller classes, it really allows us to dive in with them and focus on math and reading, where the majority of academic struggles lie,” Lauren said.
Kids on Point summer camp re-launches this year. All ninth through twelfth graders in the program will have internship and first-job experiences.
Goals for the Future
Looking towards the future, Kids on Point hopes to triple the number of students served. Todd and Lauren also hope that they can provide more support during higher education and careers.
“All kids have 100% potential. But our kids just don’t have near as many opportunities as their peers in more resourced areas. That’s the gap we want to close,” Lauren said.
After his 12-years pushing his Liberty Fellowship project journey forward, Todd recently stepped down as Chairman of the Kids on Point Board but still serves as a Board member.
“I never want the program to be stifled by my original vision. We have a fantastic board and a fantastic leader in Lauren. We are so strong and have grown so much. I think taking a step back at this point in time is so important,” he said.
“The leadership and determination Todd has shown is what we hope to inspire in all of our Fellows who work to address systemic issues facing South Carolina,” said Ann Marie Stieritz, president and CEO of Liberty Fellowship. “We are proud of Todd. His leadership and mentorship with the Kids on Point team ensures that the program will have an impact in South Carolina for years to come. It’s a generational vision in both model and mission.”
When Todd stepped down, Kids on Point was able to fund a college scholarship in his name for one senior Kids on Point graduate every year. The scholarship is more flexible than a traditional scholarship and can be spent on basic needs.
And although Todd is stepping back, he has big hopes for the future.
“I hope we can fund even more scholarships, and I would love to see the Kids on Point model expand to other colleges and universities,” Todd said.
Visit kidsonpoint.org to learn more about the program.
Visit libertyfellowshipsc.org/impact to learn more about the impact of Liberty Fellows across the state.
Class of 2009, Fellow