My “life was a mess” said Niko R. speaking with Project Rise’s Associate Director Dina LiMandri. He was living in a shelter with his mom, had dropped out of high school, was not interacting with friends and was unemployed
When he realized he needed to get back on his feet, he enrolled in a Harlem-based GED program. “It wasn’t for me. It was one guy in a room in the back of the building…He gave me a packet, but wasn’t really teaching. I needed something more.” His mom found Project Rise on the internet. “The day I was supposed to come for the Information Session I got lost…I was almost not allowed to apply.” Norma D’Arancio, then the college assistant for the program, spoke with Niko’s mother about his high school experiences–he was bullied in school, survived a stabbing, and because of these experiences, was shy and mistrusting of people. Program administrators decided he needed a second chance.
He came to the first class with little expectations, but learned early on that the other participants were just like him, but part of a team. The college setting aided in the positiveness he experienced: “Going to a GED program on a college campus made me feel better about the whole thing. I felt proud.” The program gave him so much more; program counselor Anneka Werner-Gavrin, helped his family acquire housing so they could leave the shelter and linked them to on-campus benefits through the Single Stop Office. Through the program, Niko landed an internship with the YWCA of Washington Heights and, because he was such a valued intern, was offered a part-time position.
In his words, it was “easy to give up, but when you have people calling and saying ‘I hope to see you tomorrow’ and asking if everything was okay…it made me want to come everyday.”
Niko finished Project Rise in 2012 and enrolled at Kingsborough Community College. As a college student, he realized how much Project Rise helped him manage time and prioritize tasks and activities. Most importantly, he learned the value of stepping out of his comfort zone. “I traveled every day to Project Rise from the Bronx…That’s growth and I would not have done that before.” Niko will graduate Kingsborough this summer with plans to attend Lehman College to study psychology.
To people thinking about applying to Project Rise, “I would explain that the staff is great, that it is family oriented, and you’re with people who care. They help you with more than just school and employment, they go that extra mile.” He is also an advocate for continuing the program now and in the future. “It may seem like a simple program, but it’s vital to people who aren’t as likely to succeed. The key to the future is locked in the present. Investing in Project Rise means you understand what kids like me need, and it’s not just a class in a random building somewhere with a teacher who doesn’t care.”
He left with a few parting words: “I learned the importance of being a good student and why it’s vital for survival. I learned how to believe in myself.” Niko is a Project Rise Success.