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Beat the Odds, a project initiated by the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) in 1990, celebrates the positive potential of young people. Too often we hear about teenagers getting into trouble, dropping out of school, becoming involved with drugs, crime or gangs, or becoming parents too soon. Rarely recognized are the many young people who do well despite facing overwhelming obstacles such as poverty, violence, homelessness, family breakup, or substance abuse, that can stand in the way of even the smallest achievements.
CDF works with local education advocates to select and honor students who demonstrate academic excellence and have the strength and determination to “beat the odds.” They are honored locally for their personal achievements in their struggles to improve their own lives as well as the lives of others. At a special awards ceremony, CDF celebrates the remarkable lives of these young people and the families, friends, teachers and counselors who helped them succeed. Each student is presented with cash awards and other prizes in recognition of his or her accomplishments.
CDF Beat the Odds celebrations strike a chord with community leaders and citizens who want to help children struggling to succeed. Beat the Odds has also fostered further success by serving as a catalyst for additional community efforts on behalf of children.
These celebrations send several important messages. First, the community becomes more aware of the obstacles children are facing, and overcoming, in their day-to-day lives. These obstacles are the reality for too many of our children. CDF’s Beat the Odds program puts a human face on the grim circumstances these children live in and can spur community-wide action.
Second, CDF’s Beat the Odds program demonstrates that behind each successful child is at least one caring adult. A parent or other relative, a coach or a teacher, a school counselor or neighbor —someone who took the time to believe in that child and help him or her along the way. By recognizing the student’s accomplishments and noting the assistance they received, a clear and powerful message is delivered—every adult can do something to help more children “beat the odds.”
Finally, publicly honoring young people who “beat the odds” provides positive role models for other young people in similar situations. They feel, sometimes appropriately, that no one appreciates their pain or recognizes what they have had to overcome to reach even the most modest of goals. CDF’s Beat the Odds events send a clear signal that someone does care, and someone does understand what it took to stay in school and do well.