By Lee G. Healy of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal
Converse graduate, SOAR Academy founder, special-education teacher and child advocate Teresa Loving ’97 is nothing if not dedicated to serving children. Her co-workers knew she’d be a shoo-in if nominated for a prestigious national award recognizing just such service, and she was.
The Chesnee native is one of 10 people in the nation–and the first from South Carolina–to receive the Lewis Hine Award for service to children and youth, the National Child Labor Committee announced. She received the award Sunday in New York City.
Loving earned her BA and MED in Special Education from Converse.
“To provide the leadership and pathways so necessary to assure the well-being of our nation’s children and youth we will be relying on individuals like the heroes we honor with the 2009 Lewis Hine Awards,” said Awards Chairwoman Tracey Brown James in a written statement.
The awards, named for photographer Lewis Wickes Hine, who documented early 20th-century exploitation of child laborers, are presented annually to a group of relatively unknown professionals and volunteers who have proven their dedication to helping children, especially at-risk children. Organized in 1904, the National Child Labor Committee is a private nonprofit that promotes the rights and well-being of young people as they relate to work.
“(Hine) believed in stopping this for those kids like I believe in having this place for these kids,” Loving said of her students at SOAR Academy, the private non-profit school for children with special needs she founded in 2006.
Today, 13 children with various physical and developmental disabilities are enrolled in the full-day program. Three teachers and four assistants provide a combination of instruction and on-site, personalized therapy to students ages 1 and up.
Loving, 45, wants to give SOAR students a better education than she had early in life. The current executive director with a master’s degree vividly remembers being in high school, yet not able to read or write beyond an elementary level. She dropped out of school in the 11th grade to work in Chesnee cotton mills, but felt unfulfilled.
It wasn’t until being diagnosed with dyslexia and receiving encouragement from family, friends and teachers that she returned to the classroom. She went back to school with her sights set on changing the lives of children struggling to learn despite their disabilities. She taught special education for nine years in Spartanburg area schools before opening SOAR, which stands for Success, Opportunity, Achievement and Reward.
“You don’t think of it as a sacrifice. You don’t think of it as amazing. You just do it,” Loving said. “When it’s your purpose, you don’t question it.”