High Schools

The purpose of the Find A Tree curriculum is to provide students with the life skills to make their career dreams a reality. Additionally, the Find A Tree program will help students become self-empowered, motivated, pro-active, and take ownership of their education and career. Through the Find A Tree program, students learn how to produce results and not excuses, despite obstacles and challenges they may face. In addition to identifying and pursuing career and academic goals, students learn time management, resource building, human relations, and public speaking.

Whether a high school student is college bound or struggling to graduate, Find A Tree helps all students discover their passion and purpose for graduating and attending college. The Find A Tree program inspires all students to learn and achieve by showing them how to get started on their dream today.

DATA

After two quarters in the Find A Tree program, students from Roosevelt High in Los Angeles experienced a 34% drop in failing grades and a 44% percent improvement in their GPAs.

DARE TO BE GREAT

Watch Daniel Challenge Students to Dream a Dream Bigger than Themselves

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SOME THINGS JUST DON'T HAPPEN

"I once met with a young man who had graduated from Harvard University three months earlier. He hoped I could provide him with guidance and direction. I asked, 'What are your talents and interests? What are you passionate about?’ He was dumbfounded. He had never thought about that before. Seeing that he was struggling to respond, I said, ‘You spent four years at Harvard studying Socrates, Plato, and others, but never took the time to study yourself?’ This process of self-examination should have begun in elementary school, not after his college graduation.

Another time, I was invited to speak to student leaders at the University of Southern California. I asked them what I thought was a simple question: 'What are your dreams?' These high-achieving students were befuddled. Their faces suggested that they did not quite understand the question. 'Dreams? What does he mean?' Clearly, they thought that just being in college was sufficient. They apparently had no dreams. Finally, after several moments of awkward silence, three students raised their hands. One wanted a new car. Another hoped to graduate in four years. The third wanted a good score on his Law School Admission Test. Now I was the one who was befuddled. 'These are not dreams. These are expectations. You are USC students. You should finish in four years. A high LSAT score? Study hard, take a prep course, and you will get a high score. A new car? Show a car dealer proof of employment and you can finance a new car.' The students were doing what was expected of them—going to college—but they had no personal purpose or passion for being there.”

From the training guide, Unlock Students’ Potential
by Daniel Armstrong

FIND A TREE SUCCESS STORIES

GABY WILKERSON

Gaby Wilkerson Finds Her Tree and Raises $40,000 for Cancer Victims

Matthew Fournier Scores Points with NBA Executives

"The first time I heard Daniel Armstrong speak was when he came to my high school, Chadwick. He spoke about Find A Tree. This meeting gave me the idea of creating a basketball scouting service and sending out my basketball report to professional teams. I love to watch college games and analyze players’ strengths and weaknesses. I first met Jim Paxton, the general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team, about three or four years ago. At that time he asked me to start writing scouting reports of prospective professional players and send them to him. However, I did not take the idea seriously. Then I heard Daniel speak at a conference, and he caused me to think that my idea could one day become an actual business. As I thought about it, I realized that I could succeed and develop a scouting service or work in sports management as a career after college. Pursuing my dream started a whole new path for me. I began thinking about the concept, my thoughts began to grow, and it came together. I came out with a detailed scouting report on college basketball players. I sent my report to the Cleveland team. They were so impressed that they sent it on to the Chicago Bulls. For my scouting service I watched college basketball games, focusing on prospective professional players. I analyzed the players’ strengths and weaknesses on both offense and defense. I also shared my view on which players would be able to play at the professional level. Currently, I am sending my report to Chicago, Cleveland, Sacramento, and next season to Los Angeles. My scouting service grew from something that was just for fun into a business, and it has been growing each season by one or two teams who request to receive my scouting reports and analyses. Now I am thinking about becoming a general manager ten to twenty years down the line. Maybe I will intern during college to see how things are run and then after college work as a scout or assistant general manager and eventually become a general manager, where I will be making trades and drafting players. Find A Tree helped me to understand that I can become a general manager and achieve my dream. Find A Tree continues to show me how to work toward my dream and become better and more successful."

Matthew Fournier Update

From 2008 to 2012, Mathew worked at J.P. Morgan Securities where he helped manage over $1 billion in assets. Matthew is currently studying at Columbia University, where he's obtaining his MBA. Mathew writes of his experience with Find A Tree: “Daniel taught me early on that passion is the key to living a happy and meaningful life. A life where one’s personal actions make him or her happy, but also a life that has a positive impact on the world is the goal. He also taught me that passion is transferable; by finding a passion in one thing, over time, it can transfer to other interests. One just has to Find A Tree and get started. My first passion was basketball. From the age of thirteen and throughout my teenage years—with Daniel’s help—I took that passion and energy and became a part-time NBA scout for a number of teams, including the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was a great job that made me happy and kept me out of trouble, while also guiding me down the path toward college. Then, in college, I discovered my next passion: finance and economics. Again, using the tools and lessons Daniel taught me at an early age, I have used my energy and passion to help start companies, non-profits, and manage significant amounts of money at J.P. Morgan. As I mature and learn, I have realized that Daniel was and is right: passion—finding your tree and getting started—is the key to life. Thank you for your help, Daniel. I could not have made it without your guidance."

Abraham Aragundi Takes initiative and Realizes his Musical Dream

By Abraham Aragundi
11th Grade Roosevelt High School

In ninth and tenth grade at Roosevelt High School I decided to enroll in the orchestra. Academically, I was just another average procrastinating student. I would do all my work, but just enough to get a descent grade. My life at that point revolved around music and the "homies"—the guys. Life was just too amusing and outrageous to actually focus on school.  Sometimes, I would act up in my classes especially in my tenth grade English class. One day in my English class my teacher, Miss Garcia, assigned the class a group project, which I was not that interested in. Being rebellious, I began to act up in class. I got detention as a result. I already had a track record with Miss Garcia, so one day in detention Miss Garcia asked me, "Abraham, why are you acting this way? At your age you should know right from wrong." I just rolled my eyes. She then told me, "I'll make a deal with you. Just listen to me for one second. There is a new program I just heard about here at Roosevelt. It is called the Find A Tree program." I laughed at the title of the program. She went on. "Listen! It's supposed to help students achieve their dreams. I bet you have a cool dream, and I bet that this program will help you come close to it, so here is the deal. I thought, "Come on, all I have to do is show-up and not really pay attention and leave with no detention hours." I told her, "Ok." She said, "Ok, the program will be held in my classroom on Thursdays."

Thursday came and I showed up very skeptical. This was just another pointless program for Roosevelt students to get out of trouble. Miss Garcia was there and some other tall guy.  I took a seat. The tall guy immediately introduced himself. "Hi my name is Daniel Armstrong and yours?" This guy just seemed too optimistic for me. Anyways, I replied, "Abraham Aragundi." He got straight to the point, "So Abraham, what is your dream?" I don't know why such a simple question was difficult for me to answer, probably due to the fact that no one actually showed any interest about my dreams before. I said, "I guess I want to be a baroque cellist and possibly join a baroque orchestra in the future." Now I remember why I rarely talked about my dream. It was because to most people it sounded so banal. How many people in Boyle Heights love baroque music or heard baroque music? Most people here listen to metal, hip-hop, rap, emo, trans, or banda. Mr. Armstrong was different. He actually was very delighted and content about my dream although he really did not know what exactly baroque music was.  Just the feeling of another person caring for another's dreams, hopes, and goals was awe-inspiring. I said to myself maybe this program may just help me.  Mr. Armstrong also told me of how other students achieved their dreams with his program. He then asked me "Ok, Abraham, so what does it take to become a great baroque cellist?"  I told him, "Well, for sure it takes a lot of practice, commitment, and most of all passion, oh, yeah, and a cello." That was my problem. I did not even have cello. "You don't have a cello?" Mr. Armstrong asked.  So we began discussing ways to get a cello. "What can you do to purchase a cello?" Mr. Armstrong asked me. "I guess I can give lessons," I said pessimistically.  "That's great! We will have to make flyers so people can know that you are willing to give lessons." That first day with Mr. Armstrong was outstanding and full of tasks that I had to accomplish to aid me with my dream.

Weeks passed and the flyers were not working, but I was not going to give up on myself and on Mr. Armstrong. I did the next best thing. I went to my former elementary school to see if some music students wanted lessons. My mother helped me by convincing the parents. I was skeptical.  Would parents actually spend their own money on their children's music? After all, the teacher was only fifteen years old. It took some time to convince the mothers, but in the end about three mothers agreed. I know this was going to be a challenge for me. Every Sunday in my living room I would teach three little girls, including my sister. They taught me to be patient with them and with myself.  Every Saturday they would come happily bragging on how their teacher gave them compliments on their playing. That's when I knew I was doing the correct thing. Once the school year was over for summer vacation, I was bummed. I had not earned enough money yet to purchase a cello. Then I got a call from a former teacher, it turned out that he wanted to get a few lessons from me. "Wow!" I thought, me teaching a former teacher. I did give him lessons for two months. One day he told me, "Abraham, what you are doing is just great.  I really admire you for taking the initiative to achieve your dream." He then handed me some money and said, "This is not much money, but hopefully it would help you. I like the cello, but it's just not for me." That was my former teacher's last lesson. With his contribution, I now had the money to purchase a cello. A week later, my mother took me to a music store to buy my new cello. My cello was magnificent. It wasn't the ideal cello, but it didn't matter to me. What mattered was that I worked hard for it and I truly deserved it.  With my new cello, which I named "Ebony," I was able to perform Vivaldi's Cello Sonata with the string orchestra in my school auditorium. It was a blissful moment. 

The Find A Tree program is a success if one does his/her share of the work. Through the Find A Tree program I was able to intern with The Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, that experience was unforgettable. I met the world's leading musicians and soloists. I was also fortunate to be the harpsichordist's page turner for Bach's Sonata in G major for viola and harpsichord. I was on stage where many famous musicians had set foot on.

The experience with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and the Find A Tree program taught me to work hard and always look at the bright side. Be optimistic about your goals and dreams. With that knowledge I gained, I was able to make it in to the Boyle Heights Youth Symphony where I hold the principal cellist position and receive private lessons with professional cellist Margaret Edmondson.  I am currently the owner of a $2,800 cello, which I won in a competition. I named my new cello "Ceci."  And if that's not enough, I now hold the position of principal cellist with the Los Angeles City College Orchestra.  I am currently continuing my musical studies at Renaissance Arts Academy.  I guest I am getting closer and closer to my dream of becoming a baroque cellist. Who knew that that day I decided to attend the Find A Tree program was the day my life would change!

Otha Johnson from Find A Tree to Working at Capitol Records

At Compton High School I was not given a classroom to teach the Find A Tree program. We met in the cafeteria. Then one day a student ran across the cafeteria tables, and the director of food services kicked us out of the cafeteria. After we were asked not to meet in the gym, our only alternative was to meet behind the cafeteria on six cement steps. From our “classroom” on the stairs, students shared their interests and dreams. Several students wanted to be in the music business. When I asked them a basic question about the music industry, they could not answer. I asked them, “How are you going to be successful if you do not know anything about the industry?” With this question, students under the leadership of one senior, Otha Johnson, organized a music business study group. In this group they read about the music business and shared with other students in the group what they had learned from their reading. Next, the students organized a music business seminar, in which industry executives came to the school and held workshops that focused on career opportunities other than performing. Participating students then had an opportunity to meet with music executives in their offices. Students were given the opportunity to apply for an internship with the Y.E.S. to Jobs program, a summer jobs program in the entertainment industry for students. Otha applied to the Y.E.S. to Jobs program and was employed by Capitol Records, one of the nation’s major record labels. Otha called me one day during the summer to tell me that that afternoon he had a one-on-one meeting with the president of Capitol. I asked him if he knew how many musicians and agents in the world would love to have a face-to-face meeting with the president of Capitol Records. I reminded Otha that he had gone from our class on the stairs behind the cafeteria by the garbage dumpsters to a meeting with the president of Capitol. At the end of the summer, Otha was selected by the Y.E.S. to Jobs program as one of the top students in the program based on employer comments. Otha was featured in the July 2002 edition of Source Magazine, a national music industry publication.

Otha recalled his experience in the Find A Tree program in a recent interview:

“The Find A Tree program gave me the insight needed to take action. The Find A Tree book is what I call the ‘Bible of Business.’ No matter what obstacle or situation is present, the Find A Tree program can help you to understand that you still have an opportunity. At Compton High School we moved around a lot and never had a standard classroom, but we still had class. We were kicked out of the cafeteria and banned from the P.E. area until we found ourselves on the steps outside of the cafeteria. But we were still a class and made things happen for ourselves despite our obstacles. Some of Mr. Armstrong’s students were gang members and criminals, but the message was still the same: do not let your current obstacles or conditions stop you from pursuing your dream. Any book that can help a person turn his life around, help him to change his condition and at the same time teach business principles, is definitely the ‘Bible of Business.’ Never give up. Follow your dreams. I am a living witness.”

Lauren Dorsey Provides Shoes for Souls in Africa

I first heard of Daniel Armstrong and the Find A Tree program at the Young Black Scholars kick-off during my freshman year at Chadwick School. The things he said motivated me, but I was not taking notes or listening as carefully as I should have. I was fortunate to experience a second encounter with him at my junior class retreat where my classmates and I participated in a hands-on workshop focused on finding our dreams. That session had a greater impact on me because we discussed in small groups what our dreams were and we actually wrote them down. This is what helped me to get started: writing my goals down. That was the day I decided that I was going to create “Soul 2 Sole,” which is a shoe drive I conceived, aimed to help the disadvantaged living in South Africa’s poorest communities heal from the oppressiveness of apartheid. I had been thinking about this idea previously and was actually inspired to do it while reading a book called Kaffir Boy, a memoir by Mark Mathabane about his experience growing up under apartheid. In Kaffir Boy, I distinctly remembered Mathabane’s description of sleeping on cardboard padded floors night after night while rats and vicious ants gnawed at his feet and those of his younger siblings to the point where they were unable to walk for days. As this gruesome image played continuously in my mind, I began to feel compassion for South Africa’s destitute. Reading that made me say, “Wow! How privileged and blessed I am.” I looked in my closet, saw several pairs of shoes and realized these children have nothing. From there I went step-by-step following the Find A Tree program. I wrote my goals down and gave myself deadlines. Some I completed, and some I did not. I went back to school and started my project the second semester. I chose to share the project with the Chadwick School student body, and I kicked off Soul 2 Sole. I created the name, Soul 2 Sole, because I believed it best illustrated souls at home caring for sole-less feet abroad. My ultimate goal was to collect one-thousand pairs of shoes, and the catchy name helped attract my peers and encouraged them to get involved. I collected the shoes in the library, and the piles of shoes served as a daily reminder for other students and teachers to give. Soon there were mounds of shoes, and the librarian begged me to relocate the shoes because they were starting to release an overwhelming odor. About fifteen upper school students helped me organize and relocate the shoes to the athletic department's storage area. I found that many of my classmates were willing to donate their shoes, but when it came time to do the actual labor, not many were willing to cooperate. I was very grateful for those who did. After we had the shoes organized in storage, I started writing letters to companies asking them to support the project by financing the delivery. Compaq Computer Corporation agreed to support Soul 2 Sole by paying for the shipping and packaging fees. The excitement of collecting so many pairs of shoes and receiving the corporate sponsorship was such a tremendous accomplishment that I reluctantly failed to research how exactly I was going to get the shoes to South Africa. I was unaware of the South African import regulations that required a humanitarian verification permit before donations could enter the country. I completed the permit application and necessary paperwork, but my attempts to acquire the necessary permit were unrecognized. I still had not received a response or even a reply that stated that my request has been received and awaited assessment. After time went by, I realized that I either needed someone in South Africa to walk my application through the system, or work resourcefully to adjust my approach to get the children their shoes.

Mr. Armstrong helped me to locate Mrs. Jacqui Ahrends, the community service coordinator at St. Cyprian, an all girls' school in Cape Town, South Africa. Jacqui and I communicated through email and occasional conference calls and discussed the economic roadblocks and South African importing regulations that hindered Soul 2 Sole's progress. After further research I later discovered that used textiles sent to South Africa from America and Europe were actually disrupting South Africa's textile industry and thus its economy. In the end, Soul 2 Sole exported the originally collected shoes to flood victims in Accra, Ghana through a program called Soul-Save International. We were also able to use the promised support and money from Compaq Computer Corporation to buy new shoes from South African merchandisers for the orphans living in Sakhumzi Children's Home in Cape Town. Jacqui had shared with me previously that shoes were considered gold in most South African Townships, and the thought of ‘new’ shoes was absolutely unconceivable.

I have beautiful pictures of the kids getting new shoes and an article that appeared in the South Africa press. Completing Soul 2 Sole was the most exhilarating moment of my high school experience. I felt very accomplished that my passion and persistence prevailed over the obstacles that repeatedly threatened the project’s progress. I learned that by acknowledging the problem and finding a small way to comfort those suffering, I can have a greater impact than imaginable, for I found that not only did Soul 2 Sole help the people of South Africa and Ghana, but it also encouraged others in my community as well as my peers to develop a similar compassion for others. Like a snowball effect, blessings after blessings have continued, and I feel that I have truly made a difference.

Jacqui Ahrends, the community service coordinator at St. Cyprian, an all girls' school in Cape Town, South Africa, wrote of Lauren’s accomplishment:

“Congratulations [Lauren] on your extraordinary work with Soul 2 Sole. We are humbled by your compassion, enchanted by your courage and awestruck by your tenacity as you work toward putting shoes on children from materially underprivileged communities! It has been wonderful to work with you and to have had the privilege of purchasing the shoes for Sakhumzi's children, sharing in their delight too. It is role models like you, Lauren, who are an inspiration to us all. Keep up the outstanding work and we look forward to hosting you in South Africa one day soon!”

Andrea Vaughn $25 and a Dream of Going to Africa

By Anita White

My daughter, Andrea, was sixteen years old when she got involved with Find A Tree through the Young Black Scholars program, and she wanted to go to Africa. I personally did not think that she was going to get to go to Africa, when I asked her, “Andrea, how much money do you have?” She was like, “Mom, I have $25.” I responded, in disbelief, “$25? You cannot go to Africa with $25!”

One of her first Find A Tree projects was to start her catering business. She first wanted to be a caterer, so she started by making peach cobblers. Through catering, she raised the money to go to Africa. She raised more than $3,500 through sponsorships and her catering business. Andrea recalled, “Mr. Armstrong had everyone in the classes write down their dream. My dream was to have my own catering business. I formed a partnership with another student in the Find A Tree program from Young Black Scholars, and we had our first job within a week. It was wonderful, learning what it took to have my own business, but I wanted more.”

She decided she wanted to go to Africa with only $25. That is faith. She used scripture as the basis for her going to Africa so she could have a direction, and she prayed every day. She found Bible scripture. One was Habakkuk 2:2, “Write down the vision and make it plain.” Andrea had to have a vision: going to Africa. Andrea stated in an interview that she first thought of going to Africa when, “During one of our Saturday Find A Tree classes, I overheard Mr. Armstrong telling another group of students about a teacher from Crenshaw High School, who took students to Africa. Mr. Armstrong shared with students how this teacher and her students donated books and school supplies on their trips to Africa. When I heard that I thought to myself, ‘This is something that I want to do.’ I wanted to use my life to make a difference in the lives of people. I knew that I wanted to be a part of such a group. I had always dreamed of helping others and to see the world, so I thought, ‘Why not start now?’”

Andrea’s going to Africa changed her life completely. Going to Africa was wonderful for her because it gave her a new outlook on life. Andrea saw the poverty and how hard life was for the people there. It changed her completely. When she came home, I really had little or no trouble with her. She was wonderful. It took two years to get her to shop for new things. Andrea saw the poverty there, and she felt that the things she had were good enough. So going to Africa made her appreciate her life. The experience made her appreciate her family. It made her appreciate the education she had. It made her want to do better and be better. It made her want to become an engineer and improve the city that she lives in, so she is in college now and wants to improve her community. I do not think all that would have happened, and she would not have appreciated life if she had not gone to Africa and if she had not had an opportunity to be a part of the Find A Tree program. If Find A Tree did not help anyone else, it helped my daughter tremendously. It was wonderful seeing Andrea before Find A Tree and seeing the Andrea who is in college now, focused on what she wants to become. The seeds started with Find A Tree. Find A Tree enriched her life. It made her think more clearly as she followed the steps in the book. She has passed the book on to another student. The things she learned she passed on, so one thing for sure she learned was to learn it and pass it on to the next person.

THE FIND A TREE PROCESS:

AN OVERVIEW

  1. Identify Talents and Interests

    Students list 20 of their talents and interests.
  2. Determine a Dream

    From the list of talents and interests, students determine a dream. Students must understand that the realization of their dream is why they are in school and that each teacher is there to help them pursue their dream. This understanding changes the student/teacher relationship and gives the students motivation to learn and remain in school. The dream is the seed that the school must nurture and help the student pursue.
  3. Link Academic Subjects to Dream

    Teachers must bridge the gap between students’ dreams and academic subjects. Students must understand how mastering math, for example, will help them achieve their dream. Teachers should assign reading related to students’ dreams, and then students will have a self-interest in completing assignments.
  4. Connect the Role of Higher Education to Dreams

    After students have identified their dream, they must be given a road map that will help them get there. They must be shown the connection between education and achieving their dream.
  5. Obtain Knowledge

    Students will often have a goal, but will not know anything about the field. I often ask students who want to be a doctor, for example, about the function of a body organ. Invariably, they shrug their shoulders indicating that they do not know. I advise them to go to the internet and do research or go to the library, get a book about the body, and read it. This exercise makes learning relevant to students. Many students seemingly for the first time recognize the role of reading and reaching their dream.
  6. Implement Service Projects

    In the Find A Tree program, students are encouraged to not only find their dream, but to get started immediately. This is done through service projects which are related to their dream. This personal connection translates into motivation.
  7. Learn Life and Leadership Skills

    Students learn the Find A Tree Principles (life and leadership skills) through the implementation of their service projects. As a result of student engagement and enthusiasm for their service projects, students’ behavior, attitude, and academics can be addressed in a way that they will be receptive to.
  8. Arrange Mentor Meetings

    Students who take initiative to research their dream and work on their service projects need immediate tangible benefits. For these students—Pioneers—meetings are arranged with someone who works in the area of their dream.
  9. Share Life Stories

    Students are hurting and need a supportive environment where they feel comfortable to talk. This process does not require a psychologist, just an adult whom they trust. Academics are unimportant to students when they are upset by negative life experiences. To reverse the drop-out rate, the human element must be addressed.

THE FIND A TREE PRINCIPLES

  1. Identify What You Are Passionate About—Your Interests, Talents, and Gifts
  2. Determine Your Dream: Find a Tree and Get Started
  3. Explore Life
  4. Nurture Your Dream with Knowledge
  5. Empower Yourself
  6. Be Willing to March into Hell
  7. Build the Trust of Others
  8. Embrace Struggle
  9. Sometimes You Just Have to Have Faith
  10. Create Opportunities through Service
  11. Value People
  12. Plan, Prioritize, and Manage Your Time
  13. Distinguish Yourself with Excellence
  14. Understand the Process: From a Seed to a Tree
  15. Tap Into Your Creative Genius
  16. You Will Achieve What You Expect and Try For
  17. Lead Yourself
  18. Start a Business
  19. Work in Harmony with Universal Law (There is No Santa Claus)