A surprised Chambers picked up a piece of hardware he could put on his own mantle at the 2009 Upward Bound year-end banquet on Friday, July 24. The award didn't have a special name, and it didn't come from any national or international agency of record.
It came from the collective heart of a group of parents and friends of the program who felt it was time for Chambers to know how much he meant to them. James Moore, the president of Wittenberg's Upward Bound Parents Association and whose 16-year-old son James II is currently enrolled in the program, presented Chambers with the award.
"This award has turned out to be even more special because I didn't know that a former vice president of our parents association was involved," Chambers said, referring to the late Pam Samson, who helped to arrange the award before succumbing to cancer in June. "For me to be one of her considerations in the final days of her life has had a significant impact on me."
Her son, Larry, completed the Upward Bound program and graduated from Springfield High School just weeks before her passing. Chambers has learned that one of Samson's mother's final wishes was that Chambers be recognized for his contributions to her son's educational experience, which will continue in the fall at Tennessee State University.
Not coincidentally, Moore told the Springfield News-Sun, "Thirty-three years is kind of an odd year, but tomorrow isn't promised to us," after he made the award presentation.
Upward Bound is a pre-college preparatory program designed to motivate and provide academic skills for students from first-generation college and low-income families who are interested in pursuing an educational program beyond high school. Students enrolled at Wittenberg must be entering ninth, 10th or 11th grade and live within the Springfield City Schools geographical area.
The students participate in an annual six-week summer program, and they have access to tutoring throughout the school year. Chambers estimates that he has shepherded more than 3,000 local students through the program over the years, with about 90 percent of them going on to study in college. Among them is Cathi Bentley, who e-mailed her congratulations and a status update on Monday, July 27.
Chambers said it is relationships, often renewed after many years through mediums like Facebook, that make his job so gratifying. "There's not a day I dread coming to the office," he said. "I have a great staff, and I have worked with so many great students."
He says his motto is to "let the beauty of what you love be what you do."
Upward Bound has been a fixture on Wittenberg's campus since 1966. Chambers joined the program, which was created under the authority of the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, a decade later. Since 1980, Upward Bound has been a federally funded program through the United States Department of Education.
Written by: Ryan Maurer
Photo by: Erin Pence
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