Peer Power Hire Takes New Approach to Fundraising

August 22nd, 2017

Memphis Business Journal | Michelle Corbet

During a whirlwind tour of Whitehaven and East high schools and meetings with teachers, students and school administrators, Dennis Ring remembers texting his wife: "Dang it. They are doing some really great things here."

"They," in this case, was the Peer Power Foundation, a Memphis-based nonprofit that recruits and trains high-performing high school and college students to tutor and mentor their peers.

Earlier this summer, Ring was named the organization's new development director.

He initially came to town because of his wife's job. Ring is the husband of Dr. Kristen RingHutchison School's new Head.

Peer Power began recruiting Dennis Ring after his wife accepted the job at Hutchison last May. But, before his family moved to Memphis from Daphne, Alabama — where the couple worked as provost and development director at college preparatory Bayside Academy, respectively — Dennis Ring visited Whitehaven and East high schools to meet with students and teachers to see what Peer Power was all about.

"When I was contacted about the director of development job, to be honest, I wanted to get here and find my way before I got into anything," Ring said.

Initially, Ring considered the job because he was asked by friends, including Peer Power founder Charlie McVean. Ring is a former teacher, administrator, coach and athletic director and, after seeing the organization first hand, he was impressed with Peer Power's effect not only on students, but teachers.

Adding paid University of Memphis student tutors to high school classrooms had regenerated and re-ignited the fire in some of the teachers by changing the student-teacher ratio, Ring said.

"That moved me because I know how hard it is to keep teachers," Ring said. "With a national shortage of teachers, and here in Memphis, we’re helping the people who are going to make a difference in getting these kids to graduate.”

Dennis Ring accepted the job on May 11, a year to the day that Kristen Ringaccepted her job at Hutchison.

“I look at [development] as an extension of teaching,” Dennis Ring said. “People say, ‘How can you ask for money?’ And I say, ‘I don’t really ask for money. I tell you the things we’re doing and share with you what our needs are and people respond.'”

Each tutor costs Peer Power about $1,000 each year, which puts the organization's budget close to $2 million in order to tutor 2,000 high school students a year.

Not wanting to be seen as the guy who asks for money, generally, Ring doesn't bring up the subject of fundraising until somebody else does.

"As we mesh into the Memphis community, it is important that I listen more than I talk," Ring said. "God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason, so hearing what people are interested in is important."

Historically, Peer Power founder McVean has provided most of the organization's funding, but its future success will be built on the sustainability of financial gifts.

Although it has had some amazing benefactors, Peer Power has to develop a community of donors to keep it going, Ring said.

"I’m meeting people. We’ll get there. It’s just a matter of telling the story and having people say, 'I can’t give $1 million, but I can give $250,'" Ring said. "All of a sudden, we’ve taken care of a quarter of the cost to tutor a student."

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I want to be somebody, someday!

Kylea Spradley

I am currently a sophomore studying Biomedical Engineering at the University of Memphis. I also work as a success coach for Peer Power at East High School and I absolutely adore my job. The satisfaction from helping and encouraging young scholars is an overwhelmingly positive feeling that fills me with determination to constantly do better not only in my educational life, but in my personal life too. I take great pride walking into East High School knowing that I am not only a resource for the students, but also a mentor. I am that friend to talk to when something is going on, or even the outside opinion on a situation that shines the light onto a new viewpoint.

Peer Power to me is helping motivate students to graduate on time, and with dignity. Peer Power to me means inspiring that scholar to take the ACT again and raise their score, even if it is just by one more point. That one point can be the difference of a 2,000-dollar scholarship for college. Peer Power to me is getting the students excited for the endless possibilities past graduation, whether it be college or joining the work force. Peer Power to me is igniting the fire of determination and motivation under every student, and to welcome them into our world, post high school, with arms wide open, as that shoulder to lean on, as that support system when they need it.

Another reason why I love Peer Power so very much, is that it helps me to revisit old topics that I may have forgotten about when I was in high school. In turn, it benefits me in my college classes. As a biomedical engineering student, I take a ton of math classes. As a math success coach at East High, I get a refresh on topics that I haven’t seen in a long while, And if I am able to explain a topic, such as proofs in Geometry or absolute value functions in Algebra 2, to a student who may or may not have seen said topic before and for the students to understand it even just a little better, then I know that I fully understand the topic myself.

The relationships I have built during my time as a success coach at East High School are ones I will remember forever. Whether it be with my team leads, my teacher, students, and even other success coaches, the entirety of it all feels like a second family. I know that I have a support system at Peer Power, one that will always be there to pick me up when I am down, to congratulate me when I succeed, and one I can reply on in the future of my academic career.