Graduates of the Foundation's Groundbreaking Teen Leadership Program Share How It Has Changed Their Lives
Through its support of schools in destinations Grand Circle and OAT visit and its partnership with academic-based nonprofit organizations in the Boston area, Grand Circle Foundation is seeking to provide a brighter future for young people around the world.
To Foundation co-chair Harriet Lewis, the underlying principle behind all of these efforts is a belief that simply awarding scholarships is not enough. "Academic excellence lays the foundation for success, but there are so many other experiences that I consider valuable, like community service, professional employment, and, of course, international travel," she says.
With that in mind, the Foundation launched a program in 2007 geared toward preparing inner-city students for the future in a more impactful way. Called Next Generation Leaders (NGL), it consists of a seven-week paid summer internship focusing on skills development, leadership training sessions, and outdoor team-building events, followed by a nine-day excursion to Tanzania.
The purpose of the trip, according to Harriet, is to "level the playing field" among their college peers for students who have faced challenges growing up in inner-city Boston neighborhoods. "When the Next Generation Leaders arrive at college, and others speak of studying abroad or traveling this summer, being able to say, 'I went to Africa,' may change how these students are perceived by others," she says. College-bound seniors participating in programs sponsored by the Foundation's Community Advisory Group are must be personally nominated to be considered for the Next Generation Leaders program. Up to ten candidates are selected each year.
The NGL program has run twice since its 2007 inaugural (2010 and 2011) and is now an annual event on the Foundation calendar. On January 14, 2012, graduates from all three classes gathered to share advice about school, brainstorm ideas on how to succeed, and simply update each other about their lives. Four NGLs from the class of 2007 and five from each of the subsequent two classes gathered at Foundation headquarters in Boston, along with Foundation co-Chairs Harriet and Alan Lewis; Bithiah Carter, Executive Director of the Foundation's Community Advisory Group; Foundation Project Manager Jan Byrnes; and Lianne Hughes, Foundation Coordinator.
Harriet kicked off the reunion by asking the newest NGLs to share their impressions of their first semester of college. Some of the issues raised were common ones—for example, problems with roommates and not being prepared for the workload.
A member of the 2011 program, Argenis de Los Santos—a freshman at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts—sighed that he often went home on the weekends because there was nothing for him to do in Bridgewater. "This sparked a conversation between a sophomore, Hakeem Yaya [a 2010 NGL], who also went to Bridgewater, and Argenis," recalls Lyncy Ha, a 2007 NGL who now also serves as Foundation Coordinator. According to Lyncy, Hakeem gave Argenis several suggestions for ways to get more involved in student activities, including concerts and other cultural events that had occurred during the fall semester alone. "Argenis realized how much he was missing out on student life at Bridgewater," says Lyncy.
It was only one example of how the NGLs were able to benefit each other by sharing their experiences. Another was that of Yesenia Valentin, a 2007 NGL who became pregnant when she was a high school senior. Yesenia shared that her son was doing well and that she was working at the Marriott Hotel, but also that she was hoping to go to college in the fall. She asked the group for advice on how to stay focused and on track as she was preparing her application.
Her fellow NGLs were eager to help. Amy Zahlaway, a 2010 NGL, suggested that she keep a calendar marked with important dates such as application deadlines and final exams—an idea Amy herself has found helpful as a sophomore at UMASS Boston. Lyncy advised Yesenia not to be afraid to ask for help whenever she felt as though she was struggling in school. "It's always better to be proactive and seek for help at the first sign when you think you're struggling than to wait around until you've failed an important exam," she points out.
The reunion was also an opportunity for the NGLs to share their successes. There was Delphine Acha, a 2007 NGL and aspiring doctor, who had just received word that she had been accepted into her top choice of medical school in Antigua. 2011 NGLs Julie Lam and Martin Casiano both completed their first semester of college with high grade-point averages. And Jaleela Browder, a 2007 NGL who had interrupted her college career for nearly a year because of financial issues, was finally returning to UMASS Boston to finish her degree.
Throughout the reunion, Harriet echoed Lyncy's sentiment about the importance of asking for help, and she exhorted the NGLs to learn from others—and from their mistakes. "It was definitely a night when we learned from each other," Lyncy says. "It was great to be able to be able to create these new connections."
Featured in our January 2012 E-Newsletter. Read the full issue here.