WALTER SEGALOFF, founder of An Achievable Dream Academies, remembers the exact moment he decided to help disadvantage children in Newport News.
"I was driving home one day in 1992 when I saw three kids, about 13 years old, on their bellies on the ground, with handcuffs. The police were arresting them," Segaloff said. "I thought, my God, what an enormous waste."
He was in Newport News' East End community, which has high crime rates and low incomes.
"I didn't blame the police, they were doing their job," he said.
At the time Segaloff ran the distribution center for the family retail business - La Vogue and Added Dimensions. The incident, coupled with the challenge of finding competent employees for the center, made Segaloff take action.
"I was getting people who wanted a job in the warehouse, but they couldn't read or write and didn't know how to dress when applying for a job," he said. "All they could say was they wanted a job. So I asked other businesspeople if they were having the same problem and they were."
That same year, he started a summer program, which, in two years, with a contract from the Newport News Public School system, turned into an after-school program. It now is a public college preparatory school with a middle and high school that opened in 2007.
Segaloff would much rather brag about the accomplishments of the students and staff than talk about himself.
In the late 1940s, when he was 16, he moved to Newport News from Dayton, Ohio, with his family.
His father purchased La Vogue - an upscale women's clothing store.
He graduated from Newport News High School. He earned a degree from the University of Michigan and settled into the family business.
After the business was sold in 1992, he felt a desire to help young people in the neighborhood where he worked for many years.
That desire, he said, comes from his Jewish faith and his father.
"The Jewish faith teaches us that if I save one life, then I have saved the world," he said.
The teaching has convinced Segaloff that everyone has an opportunity to make such a difference.
The courage to create such a bold program came from his late father, Charles, who felt strongly about judging people on their character rather than their color or religious beliefs.
"My father was building a new store in downtown Newport News. Back then it was the law that there had to be segregated sets of restrooms - one for blacks and one for whites. Even though it was jeopardizing his business, he refused. This held up his building permit. The building commissioner said it was the law. So finally they reached a compromise. My father put a set of restrooms on the first floor and on the second floor. However, he never labeled them black or white.
"It all comes down to, if you know something is right, would you have the courage to do it?" he said.
Segaloff established a foundation to support the school. There is also a succession committee so that the school's work will continue when he is gone.
When talking about Segaloff to businesspeople and community leaders who work with the school, the same word keeps popping up - persistent.
Ashby Kilgore, superintendent of Newport News Public Schools, has worked with Segaloff for several years, beginning with her tenure as assistant superintendent when he first started the after-school program.
"I love working with Walter because he is driven on a clear mission to make a difference," she said.
John Biagas, president and CEO of Bay Electric in Newport News, said he met Segaloff through a mutual friend.
"The first meeting I was very impressed," Biagas said. "Then I was sold on the first visit to the school. He truly believes that every kid has the ability to learn and to be a success - even kids in the East End have a chance.
"His ability to rally the business community and to work a partnership with Newport News Schools takes a lot of work and a lot of diligence," Biagas said. "He is a shining example of thinking out of the box and what could happen when the public and private sectors work together."
John Lawson, president and CEO of W.M. Jordan Construction Co. in Newport News, agrees.
"Without his inspiration to give kids an opportunity there is no telling where most of those kids would have ended up," he said. "I have yet to meet anyone who goes to the school and sees what he has done and doesn't come back in total awe. His so many measures of success are undeniable."
Segaloff is humble about his accomplishment - saying "I just wanted to prove a point that these kids can learn."
By Susan Smigielski Acker