Dawn Reese’s Story:
My journey to The Wooden Floor “doing the work I love, with people I love.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from California State University Long Beach, I had planned to return college to become a teacher and eventually a school principal. As life would take a turn shortly after graduation, I began working for my sorority sister’s father Randal Waltito build a CEO Coaching and management consulting firm for the technology sector. Over the next 10 years, I remained at the firm and built my business skills in finance, human resources, business development and marketing so I didn’t return to get my teaching credential. However, what I learned in those years has been instrumental to where I am today as a mission-driven, business-minded nonprofit leader.
Randal focused on blending Christian and business principles that still influence my work each and every day. He believed in giving back to the community as one of our corporate values. Only in my 20’s, I volunteered with the Torrance Chamber of Commerce in their elementary school character-building program and I was on the Board of Directors for the Torrance Symphony, and the South Bay Children’s Health Center. Randal and I founded a nonprofit trade association called the Software Council of Southern California and I served as the first Executive Director.
Little did I know those experiences 30 years ago in the arts, education, children’s services, and nonprofit governance would blend together, and lead me directly to the work I do at The Wooden Floor.
The Wooden Floor is taking an innovative approach to youth development, as we transform the lives of youth in under-served communities through the power of dance and access to higher education. In Orange County and through our national licensed partners, we use a long-term approach grounded in exploratory dance education strategically integrated with academics, college and career readiness, as well as family services. Our goal is to foster the resources within each child to innovate, communicate, and collaborate – skills necessary for success in school and in life. Since 2005, 100 percent of students who graduate from The Wooden Floor immediately enroll in higher education. I believe our students will become change agents and beacons of hope within their own families, their neighborhood, our community, and our world.
For our students, The Wooden Floor becomes a second home for up to 10 years. We get the privilege to help each student with their parents navigate the transitions between elementary, middle, high school and on to college. Because of the long-term relationship we have with each family, they become like family members to us. We care deeply about them and their challenges due to their socio-economic hardships. We are here for them when they need us.
At The Wooden Floor, I love the work I do with the people I get to work with, and in service for. What is more important than moving young people forward both in school and in life? There is no better time for me than 4:00pm when the gates of our campus swing open when the children arrive. From where my office sits, I have a direct vantage point to see the coming and goings of our students. Backpacks swing off, and students begin to do their homework at the tables in the courtyard before dance classes or their tutoring sessions. Parents arrive to bring snacks for their children or to volunteer. One of my favorite parts of my day is to go out to greet them and say hello or peek inside the studio when they are taking classes. I like to ask them how they are doing with their schoolwork, friends, and in general to give them encouragement.
I am honored to work with a generous and loving community of board members, staff, and supporters of individuals, corporations, as well as private and family foundations. We are united as one to ensure our students know: from here you can step anywhere.
Upon recent reflection, I realized that through my work at The Wooden Floor that I am actually like a teacher and a principal for the 475 young people and their families that we serve each and every day! Lifting children out of poverty to achieve their full potential has become my life’s purpose.