Volunteers Help Make the American Dream Possible for New York City Youth

Aug 30, 2018
New York Cares volunteer gets high school students prepared for the SAT through the College Access program.

New York Cares is giving life to the concept of the American Dream. These words are not new; they symbolize a dream where hope and opportunity come together in a whimsical, yet transformational way. But this goal, often the driving force behind the paths we take in life, sometimes doesn’t feel attainable. That is where New York Cares steps in, especially when it comes to education.

Since its founding in 1987, New York Cares has focused on three key issue areas for volunteers to get involved in: education, immediate community needs, and public spaces, with programming focused on all types of schools, hunger initiatives and sustainable environments.

As part of the organization’s focus on education, New York Cares has developed programming designed to ensure all students have the chance to go to college. Currently, 23,000 students drop out of high school every year and more than 70 percent of the students who do go off to college aren’t ready. New York Cares, a Points of Light Network affiliate, gives students the opportunity to participate in various college preparation programs from sophomore to senior year of high school with their College Access program.

The College Access program includes SAT preparation, “sophomore skills” academic tutoring, college preparation and FAFSA preparation. The organization and the volunteers it mobilizes are there from beginning to end to walk alongside the future leaders of our country. They are heroes without the capes, giving teens the chance at a bright future.  

“Many public high schools in New York City don’t have existing resources to prepare their students for college. New York Care’s College Access programs work with partners to provide free resources that support students as they navigate what might otherwise be an intimidating process, by preparing them with academic enrichment, aspiration, knowledge and planning so that they have the foundational skills needed to begin their college journey,” said Darline Lalanne, director of education and family programs. “Volunteers who give their time to help young adults prepare in the classroom, navigate the financial aid system or find the right college fit, can do wonders for a students’ college success.”

College Access volunteer reviews college preparation materials with a student.

New York Cares is currently recruiting for college prep volunteers, but their largest volunteer need remains in the SAT prep sector. Approximately 400 volunteers are needed to assist students from low-income families – a demographic that tested 166 points below the average on last year’s SAT and 396 points behind their wealthiest peers, according to NationSwell. 

The unique part about New York Cares is that its college access programs match a volunteer with the same student for the duration of the student’s yearly involvement. Students are able to develop trusting relationships with their volunteers, and the results of their test scores and confidence prove that the key to success doesn’t always lie in expensive test prep classes.

“Without New York Cares, I wouldn’t be the person I am sitting here today. New York Cares gave me the confidence and helped with the entire college application process,” said York, a student who moved to New York from China just three years ago. He participated in the sophomore skills, college prep and SAT prep programs, and moved forward to have an incredible score increase that resulted in being Hunter College bound.

New York Cares has countless stories of College Access program successes, but teens’ capacity of care doesn’t just stop at the numbers; the students participating in the program authentically appreciate their volunteers as individuals. “Even though he has a working job, like 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., he still values us as students and his volunteering job as a whole,” said Lemali, a participating student, about one of the program volunteers. “Some Saturdays we would come in and just talk about life, and volunteers would share their own personal stories, which helped us all.”

New York Cares realizes that it’s all about the students. From York to Lemali, and the other 20,000 students they have engaged, the true American Dream is becoming a reality. The idea may take different shapes and forms depending on who the dreamer is, but for those students who are looking for a path to college and a brighter future, their dreams are coming true.

Madi Donham