INTERVIEW WITH MR. GEORGE TOWERY, LP Facilitator at T.C. Williams High School

By Daphne Steinberg

When facing retirement two years ago, George Towery concedes that he was, “scared to death.”
“I always felt when I worked that I made a contribution. Was my usefulness finished in retirement?” the 68-year-old former school administrator wondered out loud during a recent conversation.
An educator for 40 years, Towery, Civics and Citizenship facilitator at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, knew he wasn’t just going to sit around after stepping down as principal of Cameron Elementary School. Even as he prepared to leave the school he’d been at for 30 years, he was looking for another means by which to “keep myself in tune with what I’ve always done. My heart is with the kids.”
He found his opportunity in The Washington Post.
Liberty’s Promise was advertising for help with its Alexandria-based after-school civics program. It sounded like a match and Towery met with Alexandria program officer Pamela Daley. After which, he said, “She was so lively. I thought, ‘They don’t want an old fart like me.’”
His passion for young people—especially youngsters from other countries— prevailed though, and he is now in his second semester “on the job.”
Twice a week, Towery helps plan activities; prepare for the day’s presentation; and create an atmosphere in which youth participants can get to know each other and the adults in charge. One thing Towery is quick to point out is that he is not in charge anymore. “That was what I
wanted,” he added.
Instead, the teacher is being taught.
“Liberty’s Promise is a powerful support system. [Through LP and Civics and Citizenship] I’ve learned so much about the resources out there. The resources available for kids extend way beyond anything I’ve dreamed,” Towery said. What surprised Towery when he began working with Liberty’s Promise was that many of the youths in the program didn’t know each other before coming. He imagined that because they were students in the same school, they’d naturally all be acquainted. He is less surprised, but no less moved, by the way the youths react to such in-program experiences as field trips and volunteering. “When we went on Metro to the Newseum, I’m not sure which was more exciting for them, the [facility] or the Metro ride!” he said, adding, [Volunteering] is giving them a better understanding that people out there want to help.”
“Many of these kids have never had these experiences. If they’re going to participate in life fully, they need these experiences. They make [the youths] far more well rounded. These young people aspire to do all kinds of things. It is going to be hard to meet their goals if they don’t get out into the world,” Towery said. And the exposure to resources and opportunities that Liberty’s Promise offers these youth doesn’t merely have short-term benefits, Towery said. “Liberty’s Promise is building a basic vocabulary about the US. From their experience today, years from now they won’t be standing in someone’s office looking for help for the most basic thing such as reading a resume or explaining a [government] form.”

To those who feel negative about immigrants, Towery had this to say: “These kids are here and the immigrant community is going to remain here. We all need to be working together. Let’s take advantage of their skills and talents and build a better community together.”

He believes that Liberty’s Promise is “laying the groundwork” to do just that. However, there is work to be done yet. Towery’s hope for the future is to see Civics and Citizenship expand into schools with significant ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) populations.
“There are schools that need this program. These kids rely on Liberty’s Promise to give them direction. It’s critical [that they get direction]. With Liberty’s Promise they’re getting it,” he said, adding with a note of satisfaction, “and I get to be a part of it.”

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