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Shawnna's Rule: What is ProAct's 'No Cancellation Policy'?

ProAct diligently works hard to never cancel a program activity – workshop or service project.

The youth we serve is our primary mission. And the types of youth we engage usually come from backgrounds where the trust of adult mentors is lacking due to too many missed appointments, cancelled program activities, unfulfilled promises, or an adult mentor simply gave up for various reasons.

Because of this, ProAct diligently works hard to never cancel a program activity – workshop or service project.

We call this our ‘No-Cancellation Policy’ or “Shawnna’s Rule.”

Why do we have a policy such as this? Because of Shawnna Robinson.

In 2012, ProAct started working consistently with youth cohorts, organizing service projects every Saturday during that academic school year. The organization engaged a cohort of nearly 20 boys and girls every weekend in service to our community with various partners.

Shawnna Robinson was one of the participants in that cohort.

On our first Saturday of the season, when she was only 14 years old, Shawnna showed up to serve alongside her two sisters. She had a great time and positively contributed to our project in ways a first-time program participant is slow to do.

When our service project ended, we all went home to rest for another week before loading up our passenger vans the following Saturday to serve another one of our community partners.

When that time came, Shawnna was nowhere to be found.

Worried, after our service project, we called her grandmother, who had adopted her and her sisters when they were infants, and she apologized and shared that everything was okay, Shawnna just did not want to attend this week’s project, and she informed us that she will work to get her to our project the following week.

So, Shawnna attends week one of our program activities, does not attend our second week of service to our community, and the third week, while loading up our vans, Shawnna and her siblings are dropped off to participate.

Curious, our founder, Derrin Slack, stops Shawnna before she loads up on the van, and asks her, “Hey, why didn’t you want to come to our project last week – we missed you?”

Shawnna, whimsically looks up to Derrin with water in her eyes, and replies…

“I didn’t want to come back, because usually people who start programs like this don’t come back after they meet us.”

Derrin, looks back at her fighting back his own tears, and simply replies, “That’s fair – I understand. Just know we will be here every Saturday, waiting for you.”

That moment inspired Derrin to make a promise to himself to never cancel a program activity for any reason within his control so that no child ever feels hopeless like Shawnna must have felt.

Shawnna continued to attend every #ServiceSaturday, and later that year, she was awarded ProAct's Servant Leader of the Year Award for her dedication, leadership, and commitment to their mission and values.

As a commitment to our youth, their families, and our schools, ProAct rarely cancels a workshop or service day to live up to our mission – to stand in the gap.

The goal for all employees at ProAct should be to provide age-appropriate support and guidance while also allowing for and empowering young people to lead. We have learned that we cannot effectively do that if we cancel workshops or service projects.

We realize that some things may not be in our control (e.g. school and community partner cancellations, inclement weather preventing an outdoor project, safety concerns at a partner’s site, etc.), however, what we can control is our ability to show up.

  • If our School Champions recruited six ­youth to be in our youth program, we show up.
  • If anyone from our team (Rising Star, Site Ambassador, ProAct Staff) shows up to an afterschool workshop or service project and one or two kids are there, we do not get discouraged, we continue to show up.
  • If a Rising Star cannot attend a workshop because of a family emergency or work obligation, we show up.

No matter the time, reason, or place, we show up for our kids. Just by being there, you never know whose life you may be saving because you are consistent. This is why we embody and live out our mission, to stand in the gap; whatever is within our control and within reason, when we go out of our way to stand in the gap for others, we demonstrate immense care that transforms the lives and perspectives of our community – and ourselves.

What if we or a partner must cancel a workshop or service project last minute?

At times, a community partner may cancel at the last minute due to inclement weather, short staffing, etc. Remember, the golden thread connecting all our program activities is that we are redefining community service by focusing on the intention of building relationships – Human-Centered Community Service. With this notion in mind, with last-minute cancellations, you should plan a fun activity for our youth and volunteers to build relationships. We have a budget line item called “Program Contingency Fund” for this very purpose.

 Activities may include:

  • A bowling outing
  • A trip to Sky Zone
  • A visit to the local museum
  • A tour and lunch at a corporate partner’s corporate office
  • A pizza and dessert outing
  • An impromptu picnic
  • A day at the pool
  • And much more!

We build relationships – and sometimes we may go out of our way to do so. Our youth don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care. That is why we show up whenever we are called to do so.

Shawnna will forever be part of ProAct

On October 18, 2022, at only 24 years of age, Shawnna Robinson was tragically murdered while waiting in a car with a friend. The impact of this was devastating for our organization, as Shawnna’s leadership was the inspiration for one of the most unique aspects of ProAct.

As such, with the blessing from her mother, we are proud to name our ‘No-Cancellation Policy’ after Shawnna, a remarkable young woman who reminded us of the impact we can have on people's lives.

Shawnna sharing with us that she decided to come back because we showed up consistently and made her feel valued, has encouraged many youth after her to be instilled with the same sense of confidence, stability, and trust. Her honesty and vulnerability inspired us to create this policy that emphasizes the importance of consistency and follow-through.

"Shawnna’s Rule" reminds us to always show up for the people we serve, to be present and engaged, and to prioritize building relationships based on trust and respect. We are grateful to have had Shawnna in our community and honored to name this policy after her.

Thank you, Shawnna. Your courage has truly helped us bring in to focus the vision to turn the world outward.