–introduced by Mario Mendoza on November 11, 2015; photos by John Bonsett-Veal and Loretta Himmelsbach
This year’s recipient of the Swarsensky Humanitarian Service Award is Christine Hodge, who was nominated by Dawn Crim. Christine Hodge came to Madison from Arkansas in 1971, along with her three children. The people of Mt. Zion Baptist Church on Madison’s south side quickly embraced her and her family—a gesture that, as you will see, she reciprocated later in life.
Soon after arriving in Madison, Ms. Hodge—who had previously been a teacher in Arkansas—became a teacher for the Madison Metropolitan School District. She taught for 26 years. She then served as assistant principal at LaFollette High School and later as principal of Allis Elementary. She served the District for 35 years before retiring. Following her retirement, and as referenced in a news story about her, Ms. Hodge “lounged around exactly zero days before throwing herself into her next project.” She took her energy and experience as an educator and administrator and founded the Mt. Zion Academic Learning Center.
The Mt. Zion Academic Learning Center is an after-school program affiliated with Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Ms. Hodge tirelessly enlisted the help of many in our community to transform what was a dark basement at Mt. Zion Church into a bright, cheerful and deserving learning space. She raised funds and recruited volunteer tutors. The Center’s program is focused on fostering academic excellence for children in grades K-6th, primarily residing on Madison’s south side. Parents pay nothing; all that is asked of them is their commitment to Ms. Hodge’s program. The program runs three days a week, and about 20 students participate regularly. Volunteer tutors and mentors assist the children. They leave with their homework done, and done right. Ms. Hodge tells each child her goal: “Be the smartest kid in your class.” The Center is credited with improving the academic performance of its students.
Consistent with Rabbi Swarsensky’s example, Ms. Hodge has helped build bridges. She has built bridges between homes and schools. She has helped parents establish effective communications and problem-solving with teachers and District staff. And her contributions toward children’s academic excellence advance the cause of putting an end to the educational achievement gap in our area. That gap is an obstacle to full participation in and enjoyment of life in our community. Ms. Hodge’s efforts help build a bridge toward the promise of that full participation and enjoyment—one student at a time.
Ms. Hodge has devoted nearly ten years to the Academic Learning Center. It is clear that the warm welcome Ms. Hodge received from Mt. Zion Church when she first arrived in Madison many years ago planted a seed in her, which has now blossomed into the this praiseworthy legacy.
Our congratulations to Christine on receiving the Rabbi Manfred Swarsensky Humanitarian Service Award for 2015.
Along with this award, a $2,500 grant is provided to an organization of the recipient’s choice, and Christine selected the Links Foundation, Madison Chapter.
Our thanks to Mario Mendoza, chair, and members of this year’s Manfred Swarsensky Humanitarian Service Award Committee in organizing this year’s award presentation.
The Manfred E. Swarsensky Humanitarian Service Award was established in 1982 and identifies individuals who have, through their voluntary efforts, made a particularly outstanding contribution to the humanitarian service in the greater Madison community, in the tradition so well exemplified by the life of Rabbi Swarsensky. The award-winning documentary video, “A Portrait: Rabbi Manfred Swarsensky,” that was created and produced by Rotarian Dick Goldberg with assistance by Wisconsin Public Television, provides background on Manfred Swarsensky and can be viewed on YouTube, and the Rotary office also has a copy of the video for any member wishing to view it.