Indiana Citizen: Tavetta Patterson

Norm Heikens

Writing Off Intimidation

Tavetta Patterson knows attending college can be intimidating for the first generation in a family.  She did it herself in the ’90s.  Now she is helping hundreds of children in the Gary area and Illinois make the plunge.

Patterson started Gary Life Education Initiative in her hometown soon after returning from Clark Atlanta University in its namesake city in Georgia.

“I understand what happens if we don’t help children,” says Patterson, recalling those who guided her through her youth.  “They are the community’s children.”

Gary Life prompts students to think through what they want to do with their lives and design a plan to reach the goals.  A key to the outreach is leading students through a process of writing down their ideas.  Writing forces the mind to focus, and the focus results in more clearly defined plans and ultimately greater success.

Most of the students want to go to college.  The dream can seem daunting, however.  Writing out a plan, with the oversight of mentors, breaks the endeavor into bite-size pieces that seem more attainable.

Gary Life also provides care packages for students setting out for college—necessities including laptop or tablet computers, towels, sheets, gift cards, and backpacks that other college students might take for granted.

Those whose hearts are not set on college often consider entrepreneurship, she says.  Gary Life helps them and also offers women’s leadership training.

Gary Life has contacted a total of 16,000 students; nearly 5,000 have passed through the program in the past year alone.  Most of the current outreach is through Charter School of the Dunes in Gary.

Hundreds of volunteers have made Gary Life succeed.  The lion’s share are local Ivy Tech, and Purdue University students who stuff the care packages.

Gary Life has no staff.  It operates on contributions and volunteers, and website hosting through United Way.  Next up for Patterson is establishing a plan to establish a paid executive position for herself as well as for a volunteer coordinator, program manager, and a staff member to engage parents.