LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Charlene McKnight

Position: English Teacher
School: AMIkids Infinity Marlboro
School District: Marlboro County School District
City, State: Bennettsville , SC

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Charlene McKnight was nominated by a family member, Chenella McKnight.

Ms. McKnight is an English teacher at a nonprofit organization that serves middle and high school students who have “troubled” pasts and have struggled in the traditional school setting. In addition to teaching English content in this alternative learning setting, she motivates the students to become responsible citizens by fostering empathy, awareness (like Earth Day, Go Red for Women, and National Children's Mental Health Day), and a spirit of gratitude. Ms. McKnight is always finding ways to reach her students. She arranged for a speaker/author to come to the school to speak with them about his troubled past and his successful present and future, which was featured in the local newspaper. She knew that the students would be able to see themselves in him. Ms. McKnight knows it takes a village to help students succeed.

She also provides students with educational experiences and life skills, like the budgeting workshop she organized and conducted to give students a better understanding of managing funds and their responsibilities. In addition, she provides hygiene products when needed. When academic, behavioral, and functional goals are met, she helps to plan and present students with rewarding experiences. She works hard to make her learning environment inviting for her students, and she is an advocate for them. She is always creating projects and seeking donations to provide students with the resources they need to succeed. For example, she was able to obtain donations to purchase quality headphones for her students as they are provided with blended-learning instruction while attending the school.  This resource has helped students focus and retain instructional information. Although her work day ends at 4:30 PM, she willingly stays beyond the required time when needed to mentor, supervise bus pickup, and prep for the next day when modifications are needed for student success. It is usually a challenge to find educators to work at alternative schools, but she is truly passionate about helping her divergent learners, and she happily drives two hours round trip for work each day.

Outside of work, Ms. McKnight continues giving, as she is the founder and president of a registered nonprofit organization called Four Giving Hearts. She was inspired to start this organization due to the success of the Whirlwinds’ Heart Club, another organization she started while teaching at another school and after the passing of her two brothers (two of the four hearts). Through the organization, she is able to work with children (children at her school included) and adults to foster “for” giving hearts and responsible citizenship. The organization focuses on health, family, education, and community.

Through her leadership, Four Giving Hearts has assisted other nonprofit organizations, like Harvest Hope Food Bank, with operational needs/donations. She has been able to organize many online campaigns to promote giving/awareness for causes like the Little Black Dress Initiative, ending poverty, bullying prevention, anti-violence (gun) campaigns via Sandy Hook Promise, Box Tops for Education, and holiday card making projects for the elderly in nursing homes, which gains the participation of students in various districts.

"Ms. McKnight is truly a servant leader. Her work with Four Giving Hearts increases her ability to help the students she works with at the nonprofit organization/school," said Chenella. "She is able to make connections, gain resources, and make a difference in the lives of many. As a student recently stated, 'I am thankful for Ms. McKnight because she is a great teacher and a great person.'"