With the economy slowing down, Standley Brady is plowing full steam ahead.
The local volunteer legend just returned from the latest of his more than 30 trips to South Africa, where he distributed several tons of relief items, and is now elbow deep in his D.C.-area organizing, which includes trying to land Nelson Mandela, the former president of South Africa, for an April speaking engagement.
“Brady is just going a hundred miles an hour and I just support him,” said Virginia Scales, a staff assistant to the Research and Statistics Division of the Federal Reserve Board and long-time volunteer at the S.B. Step Ahead Program Inc., which Brady founded and now directs and financially backs.
Brady, a 20-year employee of the House Sergeant-at-Arms office, has gained no small amount of recognition in recent years for his commitment to helping at-risk youths and disadvantaged families.
SAP, which he founded 17 years ago and runs in his off-work hours, offers free tutoring and mentoring for at-risk youths, along with other charitable, faith-based activities for poor families and the homeless in the D.C. region. He has also worked with the Grammy award-winning a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo for 13 years to alleviate poverty in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal.
“I want this to be an issue of humans,” Brady said of his commitments to helping children and families. “I’ve been to Haiti and Europe [as well]. … I shouldn’t have to be Bono [lead singer of the rock group U2] to get the attention of the federal government,” Brady said in a phone interview.
Brady once filled his house and backyard with enough crates of supplies to load five 18-wheeler trucks. Right now, the top items on his wish list are a warehouse and someone who would like to donate tractors and sewing machines to KwaZulu-Natal, which is struggling with the consequences of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, as well as drought and extreme poverty.
“I’m trying to talk to the Department of Agriculture,” Brady said of his quest for tractors, but added that he has not been successful so far.
In addition to clothes and material supplies, SAP collects books and computers for children in South Africa and urges American families to “adopt” children through the Mambazo Foundation by paying the fees for books and uniforms at the public schools. Brady also sponsors five children at a Catholic school in South Africa, which costs between $1,200 to $1,400 per child. Sponsoring a child at a public school costs only $15 a year, or $20 if new shoes are thrown in.
SAP began to organize donations from church groups for KwaZulu-Natal after Brady met Joseph Shabalala, the lead singer of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, at a concert. However, the S.B. Step Ahead Program is equally well-known for its work in the metro-D.C. area. Tutoring services are free if parents agree to accompany their children to the sessions one Saturday a month. The connection between strong parental involvement and academic success is crucial, Brady believes.
“A fully funded school without parental involvement won’t make it,” Brady said. “Here [in the United States] we have everything, so why do we fail?”
With a staff of about 15 to 20 core volunteers and help of two District churches, SAP also offers free breakfast before church services on Sundays, field trips, concerts and other charity events. In the past two months, the group has sponsored several trips to Washington Wizards games in the MCI Center with the help of the Abe Pollin, chairman of Washington Sports and Entertainment.
“It’s nice to work with kids [on] these incentive programs where they are trying to help themselves,” said Rick Pollin, Abe Pollin’s nephew and director of Community Outreach at the MCI Center.
Rewards for hard work are also integral to SAP. Trips to the beach are popular in the summer, and the group has taken children to New York, Baltimore and even Paris. They also invite politicians and professionals to speak to the children. Past speakers have included former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend (D), Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and R&B singer Jerry Butler.
For now, SAP is looking forward to expanding its classroom facilities at its Capitol Heights office as well as in the two churches in the District where they also hold tutoring sessions. And, of course, they always need more volunteers.
“I wish we had a mentor for every child, but everyone is so busy,” Brady said.
Anyone wishing to get involved in SAP should call Brady at (301) 420-3783. Upcoming events include a clothes “give-away” Saturday at John Bayne Elementary School, 7010 Walker Mill Road, Capitol Heights, Md. More information about the group is available at sbstepahead.org.