Story #41

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Rachel B. – On the path out of poverty

BronxWorks Center for Achieving Future Education (CAFÉ) Program


Considering the path she’s on now, it’s hard to believe that 17-year-old Rachel once had nowhere else to study or do her homework but the backseat of her family’s minivan.  For a time while in elementary school, “we had no place to go or to eat or to call home,” says Rachel, so they lived out of their van.  Fortunately, they’ve been in a permanent apartment for several years now.  When Rachel reflects back on that time, she acknowledges that it was “not stable,” and uses this as an intense motivator to do well in school because she knows it’s the path to get ahead in life.

Rachel was born in the Bronx.  Her family moved here from Ghana so she could benefit from the educational opportunities here – which she certainly has.  Rachel has witnessed her parents’ economic struggles, due in part to her mother’s disability, and feels that “my only way out of poverty is education.”  She has always done well in school, and even took classes at nearby Lehman College so she could graduate from high school early!

The next stop on Rachel’s path was History Makers, a joint BronxWorks-Fordham University summer enrichment program that gives high schoolers a taste of college, focusing on Bronx history learned through oral history, field research, and mentorship.  Rachel learned a lot, admitting “I didn’t think the Bronx even had any history!” and enjoyed the feel she got for on-campus college life.  This connected her with the BronxWorks CAFÉ staff, including Program Coordinator Jean-Pierre LaCour, who were crucial resources throughout Rachel’s college application process.

Rachel had little support from her school’s overwhelmed college counselor, so she took the initiative to do her own research on potential colleges and sought help from CAFÉ staff with the key pieces of her applications.  She also found a confidant in Jean-Pierre, relieved to be able to open up about family hardships and various “things I’m going through.”  This spring, “I was ecstatic,” Rachel says about her acceptance to Oxford College at the prestigious Emory University in Georgia.  What’s more, thanks to her case manager’s support with financial aid and scholarship applications, she is getting nearly a full ride in scholarships which makes Rachel’s college education financially possible for her family – and she’s excited to supplement it by choosing to be a library assistant for work-study.

BronxWorks has continued to be a major part of Rachel’s life.  Beyond CAFÉ staff making sure she got everything submitted to confirm her enrollment and financial aid, Rachel took advantage of other BronxWorks opportunities.  She participated in the Summer Youth Employment Program, receiving a modest wage working as a peer educator with BronxWorks adolescent development programs.  Rachel found the work rewarding and was also excited to learn to swim (a college requirement) through the Aquatics Program.

This summer, Rachel was concerned about how she was actually going to get to college in Georgia given her family’s financial situation and mother’s disability, so she asked if Rakeesha Glover, the CAFÉ college retention specialist, could take her there.  CAFÉ was able to provide the two with train tickets so Rachel could get safely to school and have help moving in, getting settled, and starting off on the right foot.

Now at Emory pursuing her love of math, Rachel acknowledges that classes are tough and it’s an adjustment, but she’s in touch regularly with CAFÉ staff who are supporting her through the transition.  Rachel says “I don’t know where I’d be without BronxWorks. I really appreciate BronxWorks—it did so much for me.”  And BronxWorks appreciates all of you – staff, partners, and donors – who make dreams like Rachel’s come true!

CAFÉ guides middle school students and their families through the high school selection and application process.  The program holds workshops on school selection and facilitates visits to high school fairs and works closely with students to make sure they are ready to meet the expectations of quality high schools.  CAFÉ also helps high school students prepare for a college career including: workshops on all aspects of the college application process (including financial aid); visits to colleges and college fairs; scholarship search help; and individual counseling.  Staff work diligently to ensure that youth are ready for college beyond matriculation.  Questions or comments? Send them to info@bronxworks.org.

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