Life Tools Foundation: Meeting Students “Where They’re At”

Life Tools Foundation is an organization that is making sure that the children of their community don’t slip between the cracks that threaten their success in the classroom and in life. It’s not easy to succeed in school when you don’t have the basic tools needed for study, and where students from low-income homes are confronted by obstacles everywhere they turn. Pretty much, Life Tools Foundation ensures these children have what they need, from school supplies, to help with homework, to scholarships, mentoring, and more. That is something we wanted to support, so we endeavored to award this fine organization a small grant.

It seemed like the least we could do.

We had a chat with Director of Development Aryn Brault to learn more about the work of Life Tools Foundation, Inc.:

Kars4Kids: Can you tell us about the demographic you serve?

Aryn Brault: The Life Tools Foundation serves students in grades K-12 who come from economically disadvantaged families. We operate in the greater Fox Valley area, from Oshkosh to Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Kars4Kids: You have a school supply drive coming up. What do you provide the students and why is this effort so important?

Aryn Brault: Currently, the Life Tools Foundation is collecting school supplies for students in order to help them get organized for the upcoming academic year. Supplies such as daily planners, backpacks, pencil cases, and etc., help students to get and stay organized throughout the year, a way to help them succeed academically. As we all know, organization is also an important skill set that will help students outside of the classroom as well.

We are committed to providing our students with the resources they need to be successful, whether that may be a pencil, a backpack, or a calculator. Having the materials and tools they need reduces frustration, boosts confidence, and empowers our students by removing obstacles that stand in their way. We are very encouraged by the response we have received from the school supply drive, and we are hopeful that this drive will cover our students’ needs for the current school year.

Kars4Kids: You offer one-on-one tutoring for children from low-income homes. Why do children from financially-challenged backgrounds need extra help?

Aryn Brault: Students from financially-challenged backgrounds often have a number of barriers and difficulties that may stand in the way of their being able to focus on their education. In many cases, the focus is on basic needs, and often these students struggle with challenges at home. However, if these children are given a hand up to become academically successful, with hard work and perseverance they are able to break out of the cycle of poverty, and, in some cases, addiction. This changes not only the future of the individual student, but their family and the greater community as well.

Madeline reads to a younger child via the Life Tools Foundation

Kars4Kids: How many children are currently being tutored? How many tutors do you have onboard?

Aryn Brault: During the 2020–2021 school year, the Life Tools Foundation served over 300 students, K -12, in areas ranging from literacy to mathematics, ACT test prep, to life skills. In the current academic year, we hope to reach upwards of 350 students. To do so, we currently have 25 extremely talented, qualified, and passionate individuals who work with our students to help them achieve both their academic and personal goals.

Jane Kauffman tutors a young girl via the Life Tools Foundation

Kars4Kids: Can you talk about your “back to basics” approach to learning?

Aryn Brault: We understand the importance of keeping ahead of the newest teaching trends, but we are also firm believers that many techniques that have been tried and true for generations should not be casually tossed overboard. Memorization, repetition, confidence-building through achievement, and accountability are just a few of the foundational elements that guide our tutors. There are always new teaching methods that arise, but the foundation believes in utilizing methods that have been effective for students throughout the years.

Kars4Kids: Life Tools Foundation only tutors students who qualify for scholarships, yet a nominal fee is required. Why is this important?

Aryn Brault: The foundation understands the importance of parent engagement in a student’s educational career. By requiring this small fee for each tutoring session, typically $5 for many of our families, our families are accountable and as a result, invested in their student’s learning and ultimate success. This fee also ensures that our tutor’s time and commitment are respected and well-utilized.

Kars4Kids: You offer both volunteer and paid tutoring positions. How do you determine whether a tutor is to be a volunteer or receive a salary? What is your process for matching tutors to students?

Aryn Brault: The foundation has the capacity to offer paid tutoring positions, and we are more than willing to do so for the quality of tutors that are accepted. However, there are tutors who feel strongly about volunteering their time, to help students in need and help make a difference in the community. First and foremost, we are committed to providing our students with same quality of tutoring (or better) than they would receive from leading for-profit companies. Our tutors must have the education, the experience working with young people, and the passion to make a difference that are necessary to change the life of a student. As our student needs are unique, we have a pool of tutors for each subject area with expertise in various learning disabilities and behavioral challenges.

Kars4Kids: Can you share a success story with our readers?

Aryn Brault: Maya came to the foundation as a third-grade student who was not reading at all. She did not know her letter sounds or even have the understanding that a group of letters symbolized a word. At that point, she was convinced that she would never be able to read, which caused her to have significant embarrassment with her classmates and teacher. Her father recognized the struggles his daughter was facing, and wanted to step in to help. But, struggling as a single-father with significant personal challenges of his own, he knew he needed additional help. He loves his daughter very much, and he understood the importance of education and the value that tutoring could have in his daughter’s life.

Because of her negative feelings toward school and her lack of personal confidence, Maya was resistant to everyone that had tried to help her. However, once our tutor, Cindy, began working with her, that story changed significantly. Maya is now engaged in school and her tutoring sessions. She is eager to learn, and is always striving to do more. Maya loves to read books, and is always wanting new material. By getting the help she needs now, she will be able to develop the tools she will need to be successful, and she will be able to choose her future.

If Maya had not been introduced to the tutors here at the Foundation, she would be entering her next academic year still unable to read. She would become more withdrawn academically and increasingly frustrated with school. If she was lucky enough to eventually graduate high school, she would not have the skill sets she would need to land a job that would allow her to live comfortably or raise a family. Post-secondary education would not be part of her future. Her lack of confidence would most likely have resulted in unhealthy decisions both personally and relationally.

Through the work that Maya and her father have completed with Cindy, Maya has made significant progress toward reaching her goals, is coming up to grade-level proficiency, and is taking control of her life. Having someone like Cindy working with Maya week after week and providing her with a mentor that believes she attain her goals, is a powerful tool that empowers Maya and will ultimately change her life forever.

Kars4Kids: How did COVID-19 affect your operations?

Aryn Brault: Through the course of the pandemic, we made the difficult transition from in-person tutoring to remote learning via Zoom. Thankfully, the technology tools provided an efficient and productive tutoring platform for a segment of our student population. We were able to continue making that one-on-one connection and providing our students with the assistance they needed during this difficult and frustrating time.

Our tutors also continued to build on the relationships they had developed with their students, which allowed our students to remain connected to real people outside of their homes and families. Many of our students struggle with challenges at home, however, which made connecting via Zoom on a set schedule very difficult for some. In other cases, our students lacked the motivation to log-in to the sessions and their parent(s) may have been working or simply not engaged enough to prod them to do so. If remote learning is required in the future, our tutors are well-equipped to meet our students where they are at. Ideally, we will be able to continue to work with our students face-to-face and person-to-person, to make a connection and change lives.

Kars4Kids: What’s next for Life Tools Foundation, Inc.?

Aryn Brault: The need for tutoring in our community has been demonstrated to be significant for many years, but the Covid-19 pandemic elevated that need dramatically. In order to assist as many students as possible, the Life Tools Foundation is seeking new collaboration efforts to help students “where they’re at.” Our latest collaboration, the Empower Tutoring Program, is in partnership with the Appleton Public Library. The program is for K-10 students who go to the library after school as part of their daily routines.

By having tutors available to students at the library, we can help those in need, in their neighborhoods. Overall, the foundation has the goal of empowering students to ultimately change the trajectory of their lives forever. Through the assistance of our hero donors and dedicated tutors, we will be able to expand our offerings to do just that.