Let’s say that you’re preparing for a marathon and you desperately want to place in the top ten. In fact, it’s all you’ve ever wanted. However, in order to do it you’re required to buy a pair of shoes that are simply out of your price range. What would you do?

Cynthia is a bright young woman from Skyline High School who was faced with a similar challenge – trying to achieve a difficult goal without the tools she needed to do so.

Cynthia is in the math cluster at Skyline, an arduous and selective program whose participants must take all of the state-mandated math courses and then take an additional eight math classes. Did I mention the classes are almost entirely Pre-Advanced Placement or Advanced Placement?

The workload is tremendous, even for a smart student like Cynthia.

To complete the rigorous academic requirements, students need graphing calculators for the high-level courses. Cynthia is trying to save up for one, but hadn’t yet reached her goal. She doesn’t let that stop her. She works around the problem by using a web-based graphing tool, except it is often an insufficient solution that adds about one to two hours to her homework … every night.

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’ August Nine for 90 event, volunteers from Atmos Energy and Texas Instruments were on hand at United Way-funded Trinity River Mission, where Cynthia has been coming since the 6th grade as part of the Believe and Achieve Scholarship Program. These volunteers spent an entire day helping students like Cynthia prepare for the upcoming school year by providing new school supplies and one-on-one mentoring.

Additionally, Texas Instruments brought along a range of grade-appropriate calculators to gift to the students in attendance, including their top of the line TI-Nspire line, which is basically the Cadillac of computational tools.

At the event, Cynthia was presented with her very own TI-Nspire graphing calculator, something she had never had before. For her, this gift is more than just a homework time-saver, it’s a vital tool that will help her achieve her dreams.

She tells me that her love of math began in middle school, when she would feel a swell of pride after working out a problem. Cynthia explains, “Math is so rewarding for me, because I have to teach myself how to do it, and struggling through a problem often means thinking outside of the box.”

Cynthia is pursuing her dream of becoming an engineer because she loves “the idea of continuously learning and always finding new ways of solving problems and tackling challenges.”

As I sit with Cynthia, she pauses to make the connection between math and her life. “My teachers and the staff at Trinity River Mission have always helped me learn for myself,” she reflects. “Kind of like in life, everything doesn’t always come easy. Sometimes, you just have to work through it and find your own answer.”

Thanks to United Way and great organizations like Trinity River Mission, Atmos Energy, and Texas Instruments, Cynthia’s learning journey will be made just a little easier.

When you give to the United Way, we’re able to reach students like Cynthia who are working hard, sometimes under the radar, just trying to prepare for the marathon that is school and life. Cynthia told me she’s more confident than ever to head into school this year. Little does she know, she’s got the confidence of thousands of United Way difference-makers, who don’t invest their money and time in community problems, but in the answers to those problems. If there’s someone who can appreciate that, it’s Cynthia.