"OK, I got this.”
Akira Underwood mutters to herself during math lessons at school. Math seems more difficult since Ohio switched to the Common Core curriculum, but Akira, 14, always thinks she has it down during class.
The same happens with science. She pays attention, she thinks she understands, “but then, when I get home…”
Akira wants to be ready and on top of her game when she starts high school next year. She wants to graduate and go to college – “out of state, but not too far out.” She wants to study art and design and maybe become a librarian.
But first, she has to get through the eighth grade. She and her grandparents, who are raising Akira, are asking for a little help.
Akira’s grandmother, Valerie Underwood-Powers, was diagnosed in June with ovarian cancer. Medical bills mean the family can’t afford a tutor, so their wish this Christmas – part of The Enquirer’s annual Wish List fundraising drive – is private, in-home tutoring for Akira.
“Ah,” Underwood-Powers said, laughing at the thought of paid-for tutoring for her granddaughter, “it would mean everything. … I’m blessed to be alive; that would be an extra blessing.”
The grandmother thought she was done raising children until Akira was born on Oct. 19, 2002. It's like starting over, she said, and it’s not always easy.
This past year, Akira was really struggling with science at Our Lady of Lourdes School, and had to bear down to pass seventh grade. She has attention deficit disorder, so she tends to do better with one-on-one tutoring, but that's difficult to find and afford. Underwood-Powers has lost count of how many phone calls she made, begging for help.
“She just barely made it,” Valerie said. “Ds all year, and it was so hard getting someone to tutor her in those subjects.”
When Underwood-Powers was diagnosed in June, doctors told her the cancer had reproduced and spread. She is in remission now after rounds of chemotherapy and surgery, but the bills keep coming. Doctors told her the cancer will come back, too. She'll deal with that as it comes, but right now, her focus is Akira.
“She’s so bright, and I know she’s smart," she said. "I think she’s going to be something great, and I want to do everything I can to contribute to that."
In the family dining room in Westwood, Akira plays the piano. She floats through "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," a piece she's been practicing. Underwood-Powers looks across the room and smiles, describing what she sees.
She named her granddaughter, and she chose Akira after someone told her it means “source of power.”
It was an easy pick, she said. It fits. It’s true.
She looks at Akira and she sees a smart, beautiful girl with a wide-open future. She sees a legacy. She sees hope.
How to give
The Enquirer proudly promotes the annual Wish List fundraising effort in conjunction with the United Way of Greater Cincinnati. We know how caring and giving our readers are, and the Wish List presents each of you with the opportunity to dig down and find it in your hearts to lend a helping hand.
• To provide support for families and the nonprofit agencies that work with them, just visit http://www.uwgc.org/wishlist.
• Can’t find the dollars to give this time around? No problem, you can give in other ways. For instance, find a nonprofit organization you can assist through volunteering. One place to look is the United Way's Volunteer Connection at www.uwgc.org/volunteer/ways-to-volunteer.
• Or, simply share this Wish List story on your Facebook or Twitter page to bring it to the attention of more potential helping hands. Doing this will help your own network of family and friends recognize the very real needs in our community – needs each of us can help address.