Many of us found adolescence difficult to navigate but got through it, not just with the help of our anguished parents but because of the network of extended family, church friends, scout leaders, and teachers who stepped in and, very often, said the same things our parents were saying but in a way that we heard and responded to. In effect, the proverbial “villageâ€ came through for us.
Lynette Faust believes “it takes a village to raise a child,â€ and that the Harlem Educational Activities Fund has been part of the village that’s helped her to successfully raise her daughter, L’Eunice.
An exceptionally bright child who learned to read at an unusually early age, L’Eunice hit a “rough patchâ€ in her teens.
“Teenagers today are exposed to so much and have so many distractions,â€ Faust says. “She tried to assert her own authority and had some difficulty adjusting, but HEAF supported us through that.â€
By affirming the values her daughter received at home, and by providing a nurturing, supportive environment, L’Eunice emerged unscathed.
“HEAF constantly reinforces your goals, aspirations, and expectations,â€ Faust says. “You go to HEAF, you go to college.â€
HEAF is a nonprofit organization that helps high-potential, underserved black and Hispanic students in New York City prepare for, enter, and graduate from college.
“Failure is not an option at HEAF,â€ says Merle McGee, vice president of programs.
Based in Harlem, HEAF was started in 1989 by Daniel and Joanna Rose. What began as an important literacy effort at P.S. 76 in Harlem has over the years expanded to the 10-year continuum HEAF is today. Starting with rising sixth-graders, HEAF begins exposing youngsters to a “college-going culture,â€ as McGee puts it.
“We provide the social and emotional support and the academic content. We show them how to make good decisions, how to develop smart networks. We give them opportunities to explore leadership and to take on leadership roles.â€
HEAF recruits middle school students who’ve been provided a solid educational foundation, but who aren’t necessarily academic stars.
“We look for the B- student, those who are in ‘the forgotten middle,'” says McGee, “but they must be on grade level in all their subjects.â€