When Andrison says he “grew up at LEAP,” he really means it. For a time, back when LEAP was known as Salem CyberSpace, Andrison lived with his family in an apartment directly above the LEAP space. He would walk right by, never thinking how LEAP’s people and programs would soon change his life forever. Until one day in 2008, when Andrison was in middle school, he made the connection between the help he needed with his homework and the realization that this familiar place had just what he required to obtain that help. So began a relationship that endures through today. Whereas once Andrison was a tween looking for some tutoring, he is now a college graduate giving back by serving for the past five years as mentor to a new generation of LEAP students.
Andrison’s family immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic shortly before Andrison was born in 1996. As a first-generation native-born American, Andrison is a keen student of his Dominican heritage and has been to the country many times to visit family and friends. This experience has shaped his desire to help others in his community maintain their footing in two cultures. Andrison freely credits LEAP with helping him maintain his own balance and direction in life. At first he was just interested in the tutoring help he could get—and the great snacks that were always available!—but over time he began to form relationships with the people at LEAP, making friends with fellow students but also coming to think of staff members as a “cool aunt” or a “second mother.” LEAP gave Andrison a place to go where he was welcomed as part of the family, a place that set him on a pathway to future success.
LEAP is “first and foremost about education,” Andrison says, but also notes that while he was receiving the academic help he needed, he would often be asked, as he wryly puts it, “random questions” by LEAP staff about his career interests and future plans. It all added up to Andrison realizing that LEAP gave the agency he needed to plan what he wanted to do and take the steps necessary to achieve those goals. LEAP “helped me figure out who I am and taught me to think critically,” he says, “Whenever there was fog clouding my future, LEAP was my guiding light.”
When it came time to apply for college, LEAP helped him fill out the complex forms required for financial aid and college applications, and helped him hone his application essay. Andrison graduated from Salem High in 2008, having been accepted by Salem State University, where he graduated in 2018. He majored in business administration with a concentration in entrepreneurship and a minor in communications. While in college, Andrison became a peer mentor in LEAP’s Brothers for Success program. After spending two and a half years working in banking, Andrison realized that his true passion was education, so in 2020 he changed careers to become a paraprofessional at Salem High, where he is in charge of a program that helps ninth graders make the transition from middle school; he also works with students from all grades who are experiencing social-emotional or behavioral issues.
When asked if he has advice for today and tomorrow’s LEAP students, Andrison says firmly, “LEAP is chockfull of resources. Make sure you take advantage of as many of them as you can. Think of LEAP as your second home.” LEAP will always welcome Andrison home!