Good Neighbor Jean Clary: Teaching Hope

Children Are Really Extra Special (CARES)

Twelve years ago, Jean Clary, GRI, realized something needed to be done about the

quality of education in her community. “We’re in rural Virginia, where there’s a lot of poverty and 40 percent of the adults over the age of 25 don’t have a high school diploma,” she says.

Clary, who owns two Century 21 Jean Clary & Associates offices in the area—one in Emporia and one in South Hill—decided the answer was to “bring the local business community to the table.”

With that in mind, she and the school superintendent formed the Greensville County Education Foundation in 1989. For its first few years, the foundation concentrated mainly on raising money for supplies and programs. Then, during a train trip with a friend, Clary came up with an idea that has dramatically realigned the relationship of the local businesses and the schools and, in the process, transformed the lives of thousands of children.

“It was a long trip and we started talking about what we could do to make a difference in our community, and that’s when I thought of my mother,” says Clary. Her mother, Virginia Evans, 87, taught second grade for more than 30 years in rural Virginia.

“There were many very poor children in her classes and she would bring them home, feed and clothe them, and stay in touch for years—sometimes until they graduated,” she says. “I saw what a difference it made in their lives to have someone who cared.”

Out of this memory came Children Are Really Extra Special (CARES), a program that encourages local businesses to sponsor an entire grade of students through graduation.

During the sponsorship period—which can stretch for up to 12 years—businesses commit to providing one-on-one mentoring opportunities, field trips, occasional cards and gifts, and educational activities.

Today, all 2,300 children in Greensville’s school system have corporate sponsors.

Clary, her salespeople, and staff sponsor the class of 2011, 200 children currently in third grade.

She is a frequent visitor to the classes. Some days she drops in for lunch; other times she leads field trips to museums, theaters, and other cultural institutions. One of her favorite projects is an etiquette and life skills class, in which she teaches everything from how to open a bank account to how to have dinner in a fine restaurant.

“I bring my china and silver and crystal to class and teach them how to dine,” she says. “Afterward I take them all out to dinner at an upscale restaurant so they can test their skills.”

Seven years ago, Clary moved from Emporia to South Hill, a town about 37 miles away in much larger Mecklenburg County. There, with the help of local businesspeople, she formed the Mecklenburg County Business Education Partnership to provide the same level of assistance to the children in her new community. So far, 1,650 of the county’s 4,800 students are sponsored. In Mecklenburg, Clary’s company sponsors 87 sixth-graders.

In Clary’s most recent initiative, she and all of her salespeople donate a percentage of their commissions to a college fund. The goal is to provide the almost 300 students they sponsor in both counties with one free year of college. “I decided to put my money where my mouth is,” she says.

“Children are my passion,” says Clary. “They energize me. When you go into a classroom and see the smiles and maybe one little girl tells you she wants to be just like you when she grows up—well, that’s what life is all about.”

How to contact Jean Clary

Jean Clary Bagley
Century 21 Clary & Associates, Inc.
231 E. Atlantic Street
South Hill, VA 23970

Mecklenburg County Business Education Partnership
Attn: Betty Duckworth
P.O. Box 153
Chase City, Va. 23924
tel: 804-372-0021
fax: 804-372-4063