Hands on DC was founded in the fall of 1994 by a half-dozen friends who wanted to improve life in Washington. They were particularly concerned by a series of reports that described the poor condition of the District’s public schools, and so the group dedicated itself to helping local students get a better education.

The founders of Hands on DC decided to meet this goal by creating what they called a work-a-thon. Initially created as a service project of College Bound, a local tutoring and mentoring organization, the work-a-thon was designed to simultaneously improve the condition of the District’s schools and provide scholarships for deserving students. Volunteers from throughout the community would spend one day in the District’s public schools, doing as much as they could to create a better atmosphere for learning by painting, cleaning, and landscaping. As they performed these jobs, volunteers would also raise money through pledges based on the hours they worked. National corporations, local businesses, and neighborhood groups would pitch in as well, contributing money, supplies, and volunteers.

More than 1,700 volunteers joined Hands on DC for its first work-a-thon in April 1995. They spent their day in 20 different public schools and recreation centers and raised $46,000 in pledges, all of which went directly to scholarships. Those figures were even more remarkable because all the organizers were — and still are — volunteers.

Hands on DC has grown and improved since then. The number of volunteers at the work-a-thon more than doubled in year two, and in the years that followed, more than 30,000 members of the community have improved the condition of more than 150 District public schools, and raised more than $600,000 for scholarships, offering hard-working students the promise of help with paying for college.

Meet Hands on DC Co-Founder, Jacquelyn Davis

Jacquelyn Davis co-founded Hands on DC in 1994 along with Jennifer Coken and a group of friends. “When we founded Hands on DC, we hoped to bring people together to make a difference for schools and students in our city. We never imagined that thousands of people from all over the city, year-after-year, would go to work to help refurbish our schools and give students the college opportunities they deserve. Hands on DC has shown what people are capable of doing for our children and our city when we work together.”

Ten years ago, Davis was struck by a series of news articles in the Washington Post about the poor school facilities and about high school students planning their funerals instead of thinking about college, and wanted to do something. She and Coken thought that funding college scholarships for middle school students through College Bound would give the students hope and a positive goal. They had previously worked together to organize a serve-a-thon for the homeless while in college. They decided to rally their friends around the serve-a-thon model, working in schools to help improve the facilities while raising money for college scholarships. The first Hands on DC meeting took place in Davis’ living room with five friends brainstorming Hands on DC over pizza and beer. They decided that night that it would be a volunteer-run organization with Davis’ group house as the headquarters.

Since founding Hands on DC, Davis has continued to stay active in education and community development. She launched and currently serves as the Executive Director of the Washington, DC program of the national nonprofit New Leaders for New Schools. New Leaders partners with the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) and charter schools to recruit, train and support the next generation of outstanding public urban school leaders. She is also the co-founder of Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter High School, a law-related education school in Southeast. She served as a D.C. Street Law teacher at Ballou High School. In addition to her non-profit work, Davis has significant political and policy experience. She served as an Education Fellow for the Governor of Rhode Island, Domestic Policy Advisor to Congressman Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Chief of Staff to Congressman Nick Lampson (D-TX), campaign aide on President Clinton’s 1992 campaign and Campaign Manager for Nick Lampson’s victorious bid for Congress. Davis earned a law degree with honors from Georgetown University and a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy from Brown University where she focused on urban education and poverty policy. She was selected for the Leadership Washington class of 2002. Ms. Davis received the Bar Association of the District of Columbia’s 2001 Young Lawyer of the Year award.

Davis was chosen as one of Washingtonian Magazine’s 2006 Washingtonians of the Year. Read the full story here.