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Richard Clanton


Fun in the Sun Summer Day Camp

904 Sheldon Ave
Grand Rapids, Michigan 49507
Richard V. Clanton, CEO of United Methodist Community House, wants all children to succeed, regardless of their life circumstances. And, he’s proud of how his agency has improved the lives of at-risk Grand Rapids children through nationally accredited child development and after-school centers, summer day camp, and a literacy initiative.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
United Methodist Community House CEO Richard Clanton: It means setting the standard and then showing the way. As a leader, you take your ideas and visions to your team and make sure that they buy in to the vision. Once they begin to, they take ownership and from there, you must encourage them to follow your lead. For example, if I think of a creative way to start
Foundations, lawmakers, and politicians should all be in the fight. They have the power to promote change.
a new youth program, I throw the idea out there. I give it to my team and let them give input into that strategy. It allows them to have the freedom to execute the program.
What is your dream for kids?
My dream is that all children have the opportunity to learn, grow and succeed -- without barriers of race, income or their environment. We know that all four-year-olds need to be ready for kindergarten, but a lot of parents are not in the position to pay for a child development program. Many children, especially those of color don't have any in their communities. There are only so many dollars to go around, and I wish there were enough to help all children overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of quality programming. One of them is transportation. If a parent uses public transportation to get to work, how can they manage to get their child into a quality program? One really good thing is that the Kellogg Foundation has provided us with money for transportation; we can now pick up children. That's just one example of helping break down some of these barriers.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
Changing the culture is primary, especially changing the thinking of those in positions of power. Foundations, lawmakers,
If a child doesn't have reading material in the home, you can't expect that child to excel in reading.
and politicians should all be in the fight. They have the power to promote change. They should convey consistently that all children are capable of learning, regardless of their life circumstances so that more people would think of the value of child development programs.
How do you know you’re making progress?
When your programs show major improvement as evidenced by a marked increased in a child’s skill level, you are making progress. We have four-year-olds that are now in public school and doing three times better than those who did not attend preschool classes.         
What are you most proud of?
Seeing our children’s eyes open wide in a learning situation; knowing that our programs helped in expanding their minds and seeing them achieve in their world. If a child doesn't have reading material in the home, you can't expect that child to excel in reading. You have to go to parents and explain the importance of reading to the child, reading with the child, having the child read to you. I do that. Exposure to experiences that children wouldn't normally have is so important to me.
What (perceptions, messages, historical influences) create the most significant barriers to engaging Michigan citizens in helping vulnerable children?
The most significant is likely the myth that vulnerable children cannot learn, unlike other children with better opportunities and improved economic circumstances. I'm here to tell you that every child can learn, but barriers need to be broken and parents need to be involved. If those things happen, vulnerable children do not become statistics because when they learn, the culture begins to change. 
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