Local Volunteer Helps Students Find Success

There is an old saying that goes, “Doing good makes you feel good.” There have even been studies done on the effects of carrying out good deeds, large and small. News stories of everyday people who make their mark in their communities are reported all the time. These people are inspired to give, teach, protect, and connect with others. Some of these ordinary folks are described as selfless, caring, and even heroic. You often find them giving their resources and time at local churches, schools, homeless shelters, libraries and animal shelters.

At this year’s Connecting With Kids leadership breakfast, Nick Balghiti, a volunteer who tutors students with Edina High School’s OPTIONS program, was honored among other ordinary people who are actually extraordinary in that they give their most precious commodity to our community–their time. The OPTIONS program is a state sponsored alternative learning program that gives students a second chance to design a plan to graduate. To qualify for the program, students have to be considered at-risk and a referral typically comes from a guidance counselor or school administrator. Balghiti learned about volunteering opportunities from the Edina Community Education magazine and then learned about the OPTIONS program by talking with Edina High School staff.

For Balghiti, giving his time and energy to provide support to young students who are struggling with their curriculum and need a little bit more support outside the classroom, is him doing his part to make a difference. OPTIONS serves grades 9-to-12 but Balghiti is also a staff member at the district’s AVID program at Southview Middle School, working with 7th and 8th grade students a few hours every week. Balghiti is married but has no children of his own. He says the best thing about working with kids is that they remind him to have fun and not take things too seriously.

“I’m a workaholic and connecting with the kids has really made me step back and have fun a little. With the high school kids, I’m reminded its okay to have fun and joke and make mistakes and look foolish sometimes,” Balghiti says.

When Balghiti is not with the kids, he works in his family’s real estate business as an equity investor and is also an avid boxer. He trained as a Muay Thai kickboxer in his teens and early twenties and has won national and international competitions. He is also a two-time national champion in Muay Thai kickboxing.  In 2001, after the twin tower terror attacks in New York City, Balghiti enlisted in the army because he felt a sense of duty and urgency to serve and give back. After his time in the army, he says he felt like he needed to do something to connect with the community again and realized there were other ways to serve.

Balghiti started volunteering with the school district two years after becoming a resident of Edina. He says that at first he was hesitant because he thought his time might better be spent in a school district that’s more underserved. He now sees that most of the kids the Edina OPTIONS program serves come from a subset in our community that need the extra support from someone like him. “A lot of the kids who I work with in the program come from immigrant families who are new to the community and sometimes new to the country. So I feel like I’m making a difference and serving a part of the community that needs the extra support,” he says.

The recognition by the community has been humbling for Balghiti and he states that he did not expect to be awarded but is grateful nonetheless. He wants to continue volunteering with the district for as long as the programs are available and there is a need for outside help. With the rising inequity in public education across the country, Balghiti says he’s just doing his small part to try to be there for students and families who, despite their best efforts, fall a little short and don’t have extra resources outside the classroom.