compassion spotlight: Honoring women’s history month

The month of March is filled with celebrations and national awarenesses that are recognized. This month our newsletter is recognizing Ms. Charlene Gladney in honor of Women’s History Month. She is the Executive Director of Operation Xcel. Compassionate High Point chose Ms. Gladney for her diligence and positive spirit to serve the youth. We asked her a few questions about herself and her thoughts surrounding compassion:

Who you are? What is the background of your work and agency?

The spark was ignited one Wednesday night when I was teaching Bible Study to teens. Through the discussion, I learned that half of them were planning to drop out of school and work in manufacturing as soon as they turned 16. I knew from my time in manufacturing as an electrical engineer that this was not the bright future their parents and grandparents found. I also knew the value of education. My own life changed seemingly overnight when my mother received her bachelor’s degree and then a master’s in nursing. We went from homemade furniture and clothes to store-bought furniture and clothes. My mom went from driving a Gremlin to cruising in a Chrysler New Yorker. Education changed everything! Generational poverty demolished – I made up my mind, at the age of 9, that I would go to college. In high school, I was given the opportunity to attend the NC School of Science and Math. This further broadened my horizon by introducing me to STEM careers. In college and early career days, I volunteered for a number of youth-serving organizations: afterschool, Big brothers, Big Sisters, and Girl Scouts. As an adult, I was diagnosed with ADHD. I went through high school, college, and graduate school without the benefit of support. In my mind, the youth that we serve could definitely overcome learning differences if only given the opportunity.

Operation Xcel is a 503(c)3 nonprofit organization committed to “promoting eXcellent Communities, Education, and Leadership.” We offer academic enrichment programs for youths in underserved communities by specifically targeting students in kindergarten through eighth grade. We also offer empowerment and literacy services for adults and families. In a challenging and changing world, Operation Xcel is dedicated to equipping youth academically, socially, physically, and emotionally through future-focused afterschool, summer, and mentorship programs. Operation Xcel is committed to being a place where learners are inspired to excel in every area of their lives and make meaningful changes in the world.

Operation Xcel was founded in 2005 as Operation Homework, a rural church initiative in Stokesdale, NC funded by the Duke Endowment Fund. We began with one afterschool program serving 22 local youth who would be the first generation in their families to attend college. After speaking with her husband and much prayer, she decided to leave the corporate IT world and head-up Operation Homework. By 2008, we incorporated Operation Xcel, a 501 3(c) organization and added 3 Steps Ahead Summer Camp and Saturday Academies. Operation Xcel was designated as a 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC) for the 2013/2014 school year expanding operations by opening a site in High Point, NC. We currently operate four 21st CCLCs within Guilford County serving over 400 students from kindergarten through middle school.

To achieve its goals and support the youth in our community, Operation Xcel focuses on three main programs: Operation Homework Afterschool Program, 3 Steps Ahead Summer Program, and Family Engagement Programming.

What are your thoughts on compassion? 

Compassion is an integral part of Operation Xcel. Our values statement reads:

We are guided by compassion, integrity, a strong work ethic, and a dedication to community betterment. Through our academic and enrichment programs, we demonstrate our commitment

  • to providing equal access to quality educational resources,
  • to supporting diversity of thought,
  • to creating a strong foundation for the development of lifelong learners,
  • to fostering civic engagement, and
  • to encouraging career mindfulness in our youth.

It’s the driving force that not only shapes the culture and atmosphere of our programs but also ensures that they are inclusive, nurturing, and responsive to the needs of the youth and their families.

Why is showing compassion/empathy pertinent to the work you do?

Compassion in after-school programs manifests through a personalized approach to education and mentorship. Understanding that each student comes with their own set of challenges, aspirations, and experiences, Operation Xcel staff and volunteers tailor support to meet individual needs. This could mean offering extra help with homework, providing a listening ear for students dealing with personal issues, or connecting them with resources that can aid in their academic and personal growth. The goal is to create a safe, supportive environment where learners feel valued and understood, which is fundamental for their development and success.

Summer programs offer a unique opportunity to extend the compassionate ethos of Operation Xcel beyond the regular school year. These programs often combine academic learning with fun, enriching experiences that cater to the whole child. Compassion here is about recognizing the importance of balance in a young person’s life—balancing learning with play, achievement with relaxation. It’s also about acknowledging the diverse backgrounds of students and creating programs that are accessible and enjoyable for all, ensuring no one feels left out or marginalized.

Compassion in parent engagement involves recognizing the challenges and pressures parents face and offering them support, resources, and a platform for involvement in their children’s education. Operation Xcel provides workshops on parenting skills, child development, and forums for parents to share their experiences and concerns. By fostering open, empathetic communication and providing practical support, the organization helps parents to be active, informed participants in their children’s learning journey.

Incorporating compassion into every facet of its programs allows Operation Xcel to not just educate but also empower its students and their families. This approach helps to build a strong, connected community where every individual is seen, heard, and supported. The benefits of this compassionate engagement extend far beyond academic achievements; they nurture empathetic, socially aware, and resilient individuals who are equipped to make meaningful contributions to society. In doing so, Operation Xcel not only fulfills its mission but also lays the groundwork for a future where compassion, understanding, and mutual support are the norm.

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