Today, we want to celebrate Diane Foucar-Szocki.
Diane is not only a founding On the Road board member, but is basically the original modern-day champion of after-school and summer learning programs in the Harrisonburg community.
She has been a tireless advocate for educational equity and has secured tens of millions of dollars over the years to support extended learning opportunities.
So this post is all about sharing that story of Diane and her impact on On the Road. Our work would not have been the same without her, and we are thrilled for an opportunity to celebrate one of our champions and her new title as Emeritus Board Member.
To begin the story, let’s go back to 2014–which was the ending of a chapter and the beginning of a new one.
At that time, Brent, our President and Founder, had been leading several 21st Century Grants as part of an afterschool program called Beyond the Bell.
But in 2014, those grants came to a sudden halt and Brent and his team were left wondering what to do.
Brent, who was the Afterschool Program Director for that program, turned to the people he knew would rally behind the mission to continue providing opportunities to our local youth, and one of those people was Diane Foucar-Szocki.
For more than decade, Diane had been helping to bring more educational opportunities to the Shenandoah Valley. She had been instrumental in helping to first bring the 21st Century Community Learning Center Grants to our area in 2004; at the time, she had been working alongside the Virginia Department of Education and proposed running the grant with James Madison University in order to bring more adult literacy and workforce development programs to the Valley.
“I was and am interested in learning experiences for all kids that enrich and enhance and allow for exploration, and possibility,” Diane said. “So we applied and received a grant for the high school, and then we just kept applying for more of them for the city schools.”
Between 2004-2010, Diane helped bring a total of about $6 million dollars in 21st Century grants for afterschool programming to our community.
While helping to bring grants to the area, Diane became a part of the Career Development Academy, which decided to hire a full-time director to help run afterschool programs. And that’s when Brent entered the picture.
Diane was responsible for hiring Brent as an Afterschool Program Director back in 2010 and was instrumental in helping to create the Beyond the Bell afterschool programs, which resulted in that hiring effort.
“That was the greatest thing ever,” Diane said of hiring Brent. “He, as you can imagine, was excellent.”
“He worked with all the other collaborators, and that’s when he met Deanna. And he and Deanna together are just a real powerhouse, and they helped put these [grants] to the kind of use they’re intended, which is really to build communities that are inclusive and engaging and interesting and exciting.”
Beyond the Bell successfully ran for a number of years, but circumstances shifted and in 2014, the programs were left with no funding.
Diane remembers sitting with Brent and Deanna to decide what the next step would be.
‘I remember us getting to the point of saying, ‘Why don’t we become our own organization,’” Diane said.
And that’s where On the Road began.
A NEW CHAPTER
When reflecting back on that moment in time, Diane can’t help but see how quickly the story turned from one of disappointment to one of possibility.
“It was one of those opportunities where a good thing came from a disappointment … and helped On the Road come to life,” Diane remembered.
The idea to become our own organization was big and exciting, but we still needed grants to fund and Diane was the one to make it all happen.Thanks to her, we laid a strong foundation with a number of 21st Century Grants that have helped support our work.
Seven years later, and we’ve now been able to impact over 800 youth through a variety of educational opportunities and hands-on career experiences.
And as Brent put it, “It’s not far-fetched to say that On the Road would not exist without Diane.”
Over the years, Diane has supported On the Road and our work in just about every way imaginable.
For seven years, she has served as a board member, providing wise counsel and perspective to all.
Diane has also served as a Community Teacher, the liaison for our partnership with JMU’s College of Education, a tireless advocate for On the Road in the community, given and raised significant dollars, and spearheaded countless programmatic initiatives, just to name a few.
When asked why she’s stayed so engaged over the years, Diane has a simple answer: The promise On the Road offers.
“I really think On the Road engenders a kind of engagement,” Diane said. “And it’s because of the fulfilling promise it offers–not just for kids and families, but for all of us who are associated with the organization.”
When speaking of her involvement with On the Road, Diane shines with pride.
“Watching it happen over the years has been incredible,” Diane said. “It’s just beyond my wildest dreams in terms of the kinds of programming that we’re now able to provide kids and families that truly enrich their lives and open possibilities,” Diane said of On the Road and the work we’ve done, together.
“The learning [at On the Road] is focused on kids and their families, for all the right reasons and purposes– to give that enrichment, that edge that launches people into their lives,” Diane continued, “And I think On the Road has been able to build an incredible relationship with the city schools, that is built on trust, and quality, and engagement, and I think has then opened the door to more participation with more organizations.”
For Diane, though, there’s still work to be done – and she plans to stay involved, one way or another.
“I want to stay involved because I think the evolution of the future is bright. And I want to be called upon, in the good times and the bad to try and keep growing,” Diane said.
“Brent and Deanna together do such wonderful work, and they’ve just really built the kind of organization and programming that I want to see everywhere,” Diane said. “And I hope I’ve encouraged bigger thinking in what’s possible because I can see On the Road being in every city, in every town–at the middle school and high school level.
For Diane, the future is undoubtedly bright:
“On the Road has promise and possibility. I think they are so capable and could become a model for communities across the country,” Diane said. “I think On the Road has that kind of promise.”
We could not be more thankful for Diane’s exceptional and selfless service to On the Road. We will miss her greatly on the board, but know that she will continue to be a champion for us and the work in the years ahead.
Help us in celebrating Diane today and her impact on our organization and the community at large.