School Career Days Can Show Kids What’s Possible

Harlem Children's Zone offers a peek inside the lives of professionals

Career Days
Steve Leondis tells students about his nonprofit, Hoops on the Hill.
(Image: Robin White Goode)

On Friday, I was thrilled to attend Career Day at the Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academy I Junior High School, in its beautiful, modern building on 129th Street.

Adults from all walks of life offered the students a peek inside their professional lives; a male opera singer was on hand, as was a senior partnership manager from the A&E Lifetime channel, a fashion entrepreneur, an attorney, a pilot, an engineer with BAE Systems, a sports journalist and filmmaker, and a buyer with a national store chain, among others.

One of the most interesting presentations was offered by Steve Leondis, who spoke not about his day job as the principal owner of a transportation business, but instead the nonprofit he’s started, Hoops on the Hill.

Leondis told the students that making money and taking care of your family is important—but he emphasized that living a life with meaning, that looks beyond meeting your own needs to try to improve the lot of others, is also important.

Before starting the nonprofit, Leondis sensed that there was more he was supposed to be doing with his life. He took stock of the things he cared about and liked to do, and two pertinent interests emerged: his love of basketball and his love of helping young people in need to develop to their maximum potential.

In 2006, he began by meeting teens at a gym with a basketball on Tuesday nights. At first, five young people showed up, but in six months that number grew to 40.

Now, Hoops on the Hill has worked with 200 kids and has 27 volunteers. It runs during the school year and includes soccer, choir, a meal from a local restaurant one night a week, and a spiritual component.

“If you work hard,” Leondis told the class, “God will honor your hard work.”

Career days
Devon Leondis tells students about her nonprofit, Nyame Nsa.
(Image: Robin White Goode)

Leondis’s 22-year-old daughter Devon also presented. She has started a nonprofit as well—an orphanage for children in Ghana, Project Nyame Nsa. Devon, who said this has been a dream of hers since childhood, was recently interviewed on the 700 Club.

Career Days show what’s possible.

Molly O’Donnell, a guidance counselor who coordinated the event, said the students eagerly look forward to Career Day.

“Career Day helps them to see how interests can become jobs,” O’Donnell said. “They start thinking about creating jobs that haven’t been created before.”

Each student is given a Career Day brochure that lists all the speakers and includes questions for the students to ask the presenters. It provides space for notes, and pages on which students can write the presenter’s name, job, and industry.

“What they take away from the presentations isn’t always what you’d think they’d take away,” O’Donnell said.

For more information about Harlem Children’s Zone, go to http://hcz.org/.