As a board member for The Neediest Kids (TNK), and a fierce advocate for children locally and around the world, Tracey Friedlander’s reasons for helping vulnerable children and families are personal. Raised by a single mother in Baltimore, she grew up understanding what it means for families who struggle to make ends meet, where the basic necessities are often out of reach, and when the kindness of others makes a critical difference.
For Tracey, TNK is a natural fit. Across the region, 42 percent of students are distracted and overburdened by the deprivation that is associated with poverty. The program targets students who go without food, adequate clothing, and dental and vision care. TNK’s premise is simple: by providing support and removing the barriers of poverty, we can all help a child to unlock their full potential as students committed to obtaining a quality education.
Tracey’s zeal for giving back is infectious and she’s always mindful about getting others involved, beginning at home. Tracey and husband Andy integrated giving back and service into their family’s life, with the hope that their four children (Alexis, 25, Jeremy, 23, Kayla, 21, and Kade, 16) would grow up viewing helping others as an integral part of their lives, just like eating and sleeping. “Helping one another connects us as human beings and reminds us that we are all more alike than we are different,” Tracey says.
As a first-generation college student and international lawyer, Tracey has seen how education is power, how poverty and law intersect, and how the power of the law can be wielded for either justice or injustice. With the hope of leveling the playing field for everyone, you can often find Tracey, well, virtually everywhere. From Rockville county commission meetings discussing juvenile justice to helping women and children in shelters across Maryland and the District, from building playgrounds and partnerships for DC schools to mentoring college bound students in Germantown. Since Joining the TNK Board, we haven’t seen her slow down but at least we know where to find her from time to time. As a Board member, she has forged critical community partnerships and developed innovative ways to support the children and families TNK serves.
When asked for advice about how parents can get their children involved in service, Tracey believes in a natural approach: When your children are young, encourage them to partake in small acts of kindness, like opening the door for someone whose hands are full. Tracey also suggests following the interests of your child — if your child loves pets, have them help out at an animal shelter, or if they are good with young children, have them volunteer at an after-school program where they can help with homework and read books to the kids. It was her youngest son Kade, who drew Tracey to NCCF when, as a 7th grader, he started volunteering with children at the Greentree Shelter. She jumped right in, as there is much comfort in knowing that many of the children had similar backgrounds to hers.
In addition to her family, Tracey galvanizes friends, neighbors and anyone else she knows who are interested in giving projects, including the children she’s worked with in the community, those who’ve been on the receiving end. This powerful act of ‘paying it forward’ is something she learned as a child from her mother even when they had very little.
“Look, all of the poor kids TNK serves have tremendous potential,” she adds, “TNK makes sure that they are able to concentrate on their studies. At the same time, it gives them confidence that their community – one of the most powerful and influential in the world – is invested in them, promoting their ability to likewise invest in their community and become better world citizens.”