By Linda Saris on April 10, 2018
Thank you for attending Great Expectations. We have the largest crowd ever and appreciate the support of the community.
Every year, we have a theme and this year the theme is positive adult-youth relationships. Tonight you have already heard the moving story from Cecilia and Ty and the inspiring talk by volunteer Cathy Pommer. These parents and volunteers whom these speakers represent, along with an amazing LEAP staff, create the fabric of our success. This year we had over 40 active volunteers who spent between 20 and 200 hours each in the last year with our youth. Volunteers have become an important part of our program delivery and you heard from one of the best tonight. In total we had over 100 volunteers many of these volunteering for our FAFSA Day, Mock Interview and Networking nights. These volunteers provide another layer of important youth-adult relationships that you find at LEAP. These adults provide social capital to our students every day.
We all have had trusted adults in our lives – those that provide opportunities, that guide us through the hornets nests we all face personally and professionally, someone we don’t want to disappoint, someone we can be honest with without fear of judgment and someone who can remind us of our goodness and strengths when we most need to be reminded.
This is a segue into my talk and into the introduction of our Distinguished Leader that we are honoring today, Dr. Steven Immerman. I am conflating my talk and the Distinguished Leader award into one.
By way of a story, I am going to tell you a lot about who Steve Immerman is and about who we are here at LEAP and the importance we place on youth-adult relationships.
The story of Manny and Miguel Cruz –
In 2004, 2 years after LEAP for Education, then called Salem CyberSpace was founded, two young middle school-aged boys entered looking for their friends. They found their friends and unknown to them at the time, they found a second home. The stories of these two boys, Manny and Miguel Cruz, tell the story of LEAP for Education because this story can be repeated for countless numbers of other students who have passed through these doors.
I will use actual names because many of you already know these guys and they gave me permission.
These brothers came from a home headed up by a loving mother. Spanish was always spoken in the home. The father was never part of their lives. The boys never lacked for a roof over their head or food in their stomach. Somehow the mother always was able to work multiple jobs and when old enough so did the boys. However, there was a lot of negative stuff happening in that household, much of which I didn’t find out about until later and which I won’t share tonight as that is their story to tell.
The youngest of the two brothers, Manny, was an angry, recalcitrant child. Quick to judge, quicker to react. But, it was abundantly clear from the start that this kid was smart. Working well below his potential, Manny had many demons he had to battle. With strong adult relationships forged at LEAP and other adult mentors who never gave up on him, Manny was able to harness the power of his intellect, and his strong communication skills and begin to believe in himself. He began to see his future and set goals. He went from a C student to an A student. Manny graduated from Northeastern University with a major in Political Science with a full scholarship his last two years that LEAP helped him get. Manny now works for State Representative Juanita Mathias who is running to fill Nikki Tsongas’s US Representative seat, and Manny was recently elected to the Salem School Committee.
But this story is really about the older brother, Miguel. Miguel spent a lot of time at LEAP drawing. Not in a fancy sketchbook with fancy prismacolor pencils or micron pens but with a #2 pencil on a piece of copier paper. I am not an artist, not even close, but even I saw he had talent. I began to do what I am really, really good at – I became the helicopter parent. A staff member at LEAP, Robin Frans and later Laura Brooks, taught Miguel how to scan his illustrations into the computer and use Photoshop to enhance them and then taught him how to design in Photoshop, build websites and draw using Illustrator. I talked to Miguel about the possibility of going to Art School. Neither of us knew much about art school admissions, so Miguel and I travelled to Montserrat College of Art in Beverly and the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley College to have their admissions directors evaluate his work. Miguel, having never taken an art class, brought mostly digital art to this meeting. Both schools told him he needed to work on a portfolio that included painting, charcoal and illustration.
Helicopter mom kicked into high gear. We went to meet with Miguel’s guidance counselors to get him into a portfolio class, and my good friend Dominique Dart, an art teacher in Marblehead, met with Miguel on Saturdays, gave him a sketchbook and charcoal and got him started in that medium. Dominique worked with Miguel to produce his first piece. Over a period of a few months and christmas vacation, Miguel put together a portfolio that included an oil painting, a charcoal and some architectural drawings in addition to his digital artwork. We returned to both colleges in January of Miguel’s senior year and he was accepted on the spot at both places. Lucky for Miguel, he chose Montserrat.
The Montserrat experience –
As Miguel entered Montserrat so did a new President, Dr. Stephen Immerman. Miguel had issues from the start – not academically – but financially. Art is an expensive major. Miguel stopped going to some classes because he lacked the money to buy the supplies and didn’t want to come unprepared. Miguel also ran into an issue of getting healthcare. Already 19 years old, he no longer was covered under his mother’s MassHealth insurance (unlike his wealthier peers who could stay on their parents private plans until Age 26). He couldn’t register for classes without the coverage and he didn’t have the money to pay for it. At LEAP our college advisors check in with students throughout their college years, so this came to light early.
I arranged a meeting with Dr. Immerman. He came to LEAP and met with Miguel and me. During that meeting, Dr. Immerman put us in touch with financial aid who got Miguel another grant to cover the insurance, he gave Miguel some funds tor supplies from a discretionary fund he had for just this purpose. However the part of this story that is really remarkable is that he asked Miguel how he got to school each day. Miguel said most times he walked from downtown Salem over the bridge to the school and if raining, he took the train. Dr. Immerman began to drive Miguel on the days he had early morning classes. Later during the second semester of his junior year, Dr. Immerman called me, concerned about Miguel missing classes and wanted to know if there was something happening. I called Miguel and he was reluctant to share too much with me but said there was some issues at home. When I relayed that to Steve, he found housing for Miguel on campus. Miguel graduated in four years in 2013.
Today, Miguel uses LEAP as his art studio and has become an accomplished artist. LEAP gets an artist-in-residence and a mentor, role model and art teacher for our students. We are so lucky. THIS is the LEAP story. Miguel IS the LEAP story. Solid academic support and enrichment, college and career success and giving back, paying forward but most of all the power of strong adult relationships throughout.
You can see Miguels’ art here – he has murals at the North Shore CDC offices, at Root Café in Shetland Park, on Peabody Street in the Point neighborhood, and artwork and murals at various venues throughout Salem and Lynn.
Importance of positive adult-youth relationships –
This story tells the power and importance of adult-youth relationships. Ladies and Gentlemen, you are the LEAP story. Think about that. You. LEAP is just a small organization and it is only through the collective efforts of all of you that we have such an impact that cascades from one student, to families to community. We at LEAP understand the need for every child, without exception, to have at least one, preferably more, trusted adults in their lives who believe in them, unconditionally, sets high expectations and is present –- Every child needs someone they do not want to disappoint.
Because of your support throughout the year and especially tonight, we are able to provide that adult support. A trusted adult is the key ingredient needed to build student agency which is the ability for a student to see his or her future and make active, positive choices about his or her own life’s path. LEAP offers great academic enrichment programs and opportunities but without student agency, the power of these experiences will be unrealized.
Please continue to reach out to those youth in your classes, in your workplace, on your team, in your place of worship and take the time to play a role in that child’s success. Thank you.
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