Bob Barnes, founder of The
Children’s Hunger Project,
hopes the community will
embrace his new Aspiration
Academy with the same
enthusiastic support TCHP
WINTER 2023: 7 7
level, and there is extra attention given to them,” Barnes said.
“You have students who are very good at athletics and they are
EXTRA PROGRAMS HELP
On the other hand, students who perform above grade level
could use the extra help to reach their potential, yet it is often
assumed they don’t need it. They can make it on their own.
They can succeed without help.
No, they can’t, Barnes believes.
“They don’t lack the talent to succeed, but they lack the
opportunity to succeed,” he said.
Low-income families do not have the resources to provide the
cultural and learning opportunities enjoyed by middle-class
and wealthy families. It’s easy for children in these situations
to lose interest in learning.
“It sounds counterintuitive, but these children get bored
easily and are more likely to get into trouble, becoming the
class clown or the troublemaker,” Barnes said. “Of high school
dropouts, up to 30 percent of them have been identified as
Barnes, who has great respect for Brevard Public Schools,
believes the school system is operating with so many
challenges that it cannot direct additional resources toward
“No public school is probably capable of dealing with these
children,” he said.
Using an after-school program format and weekend field
trips, Aspiration Academy will provide additional programs to
enhance the curriculum. Children can participate in more than
one of these “societies” to expand the learning experience.
The History Society, for example, will welcome speakers from
local African American or Hispanic community groups to
relate their stories and ultimate success. The Dream Society
will help children conceptualize their dreams for the future,
as well as encourage them in reading and math, necessary for
the fulfillment of their dreams. The Helping Hand Society will
provide age-appropriate projects so students can find joy in
Deborah Kofkin, the academy’s director of education, is
enlisting volunteers to help.
“My biggest thing is building relationships; we need to
let these children know they are important,” said Kofkin,
who taught in Brevard Public Schools for 30 years. “We all
remember the teachers who took an interest in us.”
MENTORS MAKE A DIFFERENCE
The program is aimed at third graders for a very important reason.
“At this age, they are sponges ready to absorb,” Kofkin said.
University Park principal Ana Diaz knows what a difference a
little extra attention can bring. Her parents, who are from the
Dominican Republic, struggled to
keep their family fed and housed and
had no time to spare. Fortunately,
adult mentors helped her succeed.
“I was myself one of those kids who
was inspired by one of those adults,”
Diaz sees reaching these kids as
“As a community, we are called to
provide that opportunity,” she said.
Barnes hopes to draw mentors from a
wide range of careers, from astronauts
to musicians. Aaron Collins, founder
and artistic director of the Space
Coast Symphony Orchestra, is
on board to bring musicians to the program.
“There were two reasons we decided to partner with Aspiration
Academy,” Collins said.
“First, my friendship and admiration of Bob Barnes, founder of
The Children’s Hunger Project. We’ve been friends and collaborators
for over 10 years. He’s done so much for our community,
particularly children, and his track record is phenomenal.
“Secondly, I’m equally passionate about finding ways to reach
and connect with children. To me, it’s the most important
work an orchestra can do. Our shared goal is to get children
excited about music and the arts. It’s a win-win for both
If anyone can make Aspiration Academy succeed, it’s Barnes.
The 81-year-old spends 50 to 60 hours, seven days a week,
writing letters and grant proposals and getting the word out
to the community. He is footing the bills for the academy
primarily out of his own pocket.
“Bob can achieve any goal he wants,” said Cheryl Cominsky,
executive director of The Children’s Hunger Project.
“His insight and determination got our mission started on a
small scale, which paved the way for the expansion of our
program from one school serving 27 students to our current
50 plus schools serving over 3,500 students.
“His passion for the education and well-being of our children
is contagious. He has often said that we’ve been able to accomplish
so much at The Children’s Hunger Project because we are
‘guided by angels’…he is one of those angels.”
For Barnes, Aspiration Academy is a natural progression from
The Children’s Hunger Project.
“If we can address the nutrition and education of children, we
can change the world,” he said.
Aspiration Academy welcomes volunteers and tax-deductible
donations. Visit aspirationacademy.org for more information.