- Growing up with a strong support system and then losing it abruptly can be devastating, especially if you are a twelve-year-old boy. Elijah grew up in a single-parent household in the Merrimack Valley, Massachusetts. He, his mother, and his younger brother were a part of a large, loving extended family. When his grandfather passed away the dynamics of the family changed and relationships began to disintegrate. Some members turned to drugs and alcohol to cope, others moved away, and Elijah lost the closeness he was so used to.
Football became Elijah’s outlet, and he took great interest in preparing himself for his freshman year of high school playing on the field. However, he struggled to find his purpose in school while his mother worked many hours and he helped care for his brother. He started making poor decisions, and not caring about his grades. His mother became concerned and sent him to live with family in Florida where he started to do better in school. Unfortunately, homesickness set in and he moved back to Massachusetts. Elijah’s next attempt at having an education was attending night school. He started working out again and making better decisions. He was determined to return to high school his sophomore year and play on the football team. He was hit with massive disappointment when the coach would not allow him to join the team. His freshman-year grades were unacceptable. Elijah felt utterly lost. Again, he attended night school. He soon heard about Job Corp. from a social worker. He stayed at Fort Devens each week, coming home on the weekends. This experience was not suitable for Elijah as he again was homesick and did not want to return to Job Corp.
At this point, Elijah had dropped out of high school. He was an anxious student who needed a different pathway to achieving a high school diploma, or its equivalency. With guidance from his social worker, he joined YouthBuild Lawrence at the SISU Center with the goals of completing his HiSET exams and moving onto a training program. Elijah had determination, the desire to move forward, and the realization that he had the potential to be successful. YouthBuild would be his opportunity for growth and achievement.
At first, Elijah was a quiet young man. He was likable, yet, reserved, and easily blended in with the other youth who came into the SISU Center each day. Elijah continued to work on his lessons and started to attend classes at the SISU Center more regularly. He became OSHA certified and he noticeably took greater interest in his education. He took part in discussions about such topics as current world events, business endeavors, motivational speakers, and what his goals were. He had found the fire within himself. He became a more visible presence at SISU and started to build positive relationships with staff. Elijah was the young person everyone wanted to see succeeding. During his time at the SISU Center, he earned his permit, driver’s license, and gained a lot of confidence. He was also hired at a retail store while still attending classes.
In the fall of 2019, Elijah showed he was ready to take the HiSET exams. Out of all five tests he was least looking forward to the Math exam. This was the one subject he dreaded, as it gave him high anxiety and stress. Therefore, Elijah started with the Language Arts Reading exam and passed. He continued to study math concepts and skills in his HiSET class while also preparing for other subjects. In January and February of 2020 he passed the Social Studies, Writing, and Science exams. Before Covid-19 disrupted everyone’s lives, Elijah attempted the HiSET Math exam. He failed miserably. Staff encouraged him to not give up as he had more opportunities to retake the test. During mid-March, the SISU Center shut down and the plans to attempt the exam for a second time were put on hold. Elijah continued to study on his own while the uncertainty of the future hung over his head.
When the announcement was made that the HiSET exams were going to be administered online, Elijah jumped to the chance to get back on track with his education goals. He prepared himself as best he could. Sadly, his second attempt did not result in a passing score. Disappointed, but not defeated, Elijah rescheduled his final exam. He doubled his score and passed! He had overcome his fear of taking a math test. Elijah earned his HSE through the HiSET exam. He plans to enter a training program to start a career in trade work.
Elijah had a transformational experience at YouthBuild Lawrence at the SISU Center. He showed significant personal growth and proved that he can take on large responsibilities in a mature and thoughtful way. He can set goals, work hard to attain them, and is humble enough to ask for help when needed. He is truly an inspiration to other youth and the staff that has watched him blossom. He is the example of how hard work and a strong support system can help set a youth on a pathway to success.
- Ana moved from the Dominican Republic to Lawrence MA in 2018 with her husband and three children. She first registered with the Quintana Center’s ESL program during the spring of 2019 and earned the coveted role of graduation speaker.
Ana has continued on with ESL classes throughout this current fiscal year. When asked what her experience has been as a student here, she states, “it has been a great experience because I have been able improve my communication skills and continue with my future and her teacher, Mrs. Rose Ray Goris. Ana’s English has improved so much that she recently had the confidence to speak in public, representing the Quintana Center at the Lawrence Community Development Block Grant presentations.
Ana is continuing to work on her English language skills and is working towards a career in industrial engineering. She and her husband also hope to buy a home and make their new life in the United States more permanent.
- Wellington or “Oti” as he is know, is a name fitting for a young man who can walk into a room, and before he even says a word you feel his presence; it is commanding. Born and Raised in Lawrence, Oti was continuously surrounded by people and factors that influenced his mind and way of thinking. From the early age of 7, Oti had begun acting out in school to impress these influencers. He was an only child with a compulsive need for attention and his choices rarely got him positive feedback. His main goal was to make a name for himself no matter what it would take. Motivated by the bad influences around him, he eventually made a reputation for himself. Although that reputation wasn't ideal it was one that he needed to maintain.
At the age of 16 he had dropped out and was arrested for the first time. By 18 he was a father and by 20 he was serving 2 years. While away he had nothing but time to reflect on himself. He recognized his potential and was eager to make changes to his life that would ensure success for him and his son. “I chose to change the way my life was going and write a different story for myself” He now had a son that would one day look up to him and he wanted to be the best version of himself. Growing up Oti had a passion for breaking things and reworking them to create new things. He was fascinated by builders and would watch in awe as he passed by work sites, watching and learning as workers built new things around the city that he loved. That passion fell to the wayside as the streets began to call his name, trapping him in a recurring cycle of bad ideas and the consequences that came with them.
At SISU, Oti has been able to explore different interests and has even rediscovered his deep rooted passion for Construction. He spends his days working on countless projects from building bird houses, step stools and tables to helping build the 2019 Youthbuild home. He hopes to one day build his own home “I want to build my own house with my own two hands, that way I know that I earned my house”. Oti has a long list of goals that he crosses off as he completes them and he knows precisely what he is doing with his life. He knows where he wants to be and is taking the necessary steps to get there. At first it was completing his HiSET, finishing his probation and his latest accomplishment of obtaining his license. Although it doesn't seem like a big deal to many he knows that with the passion and drive for his craft a driver’s license will open up so many doors. Oti is a born leader. He is a bright, focused, and determined young man ready to take on any challenge that may come. Just like the houses and buildings constructed around him as a kid, if he should fall he will build himself back up taller and stronger than he was before.
- Juan first enrolled in the Quintana Center’s ESL Spring 2020 session. Prior to COVID, he struggled to make it to class due to work obligations and would fall behind. Because of this he had to work harder to keep up with the rest of the class and the expectations. Nonetheless, he showed a real commitment to learning.
When the pandemic hit, the Quintana Center began offering classes over Zoom. Suddenly able to attend classes remotely, Juan made a commitment to not miss a single class in spite of his work obligations. He would often have to come in and out of class, but he dedicated the time every single Saturday, and took in what he could. Surprisingly, since going to only remote learning, his participation and ability to keep with the content increased dramatically. It was a great change, and while his teacher was concerned with his ability to pay attention and engage safely, she was impressed with his commitment and progress.
Juan completed the Spring session and has enrolled for the fall session as a remote student.
- There have been so many labels to describe youth who are temperamentally more difficult than others. However, these labels leave out so many of the wonderful qualities and strengths that young men and woman such as Kassandra can possess. She is a powerhouse with a presence unmatched. When she walks you feel her energy, when she speaks the room listens, and when she leads everyone follows.
Born and raised in Lawrence, Kassandra grew up with 8 siblings in a broken home. Her parents although not together since the day that she was born made it a point to emphasize the importance of family above all else. “Kass” has never been keen on rules but “Family First” is the one and only rule that she has always been able to follow without any hesitation. Growing up there were countless trips to the principal's office and in house detentions for the girl who was labeled “tough” in all variations of the word. It got to the point where the school security guards greeted her by first name and eventually she was removed from the regular Lawrence High School campus and was placed into an alternative schooling program.After losing her brother to the streets in 2016, Kassandra struggled to stay focused. She admits that when she first lost her brother, school was no longer important. She started acting out, skipping school and failing classes. Luckily, she was able to get back on track with the help of her family and staff members at SISU that kept her accountable.
In January of 2019, just when things were looking up and she was right on track to achieve her goals by the end of summer; she lost her sister to a drunk driver. This was the lowest point for her, she hit rock bottom. Education, a job or life itself seemed unimportant when the people that she loved were being ripped out of her life. She quit everything that she had worked so hard to achieve and shut down. This was until she discovered that she was creating a life and she would soon be a mother.That was the turning point in Kassandra’s life that she never knew she needed. She realized that she had to get her life together no matter what it would take. She successfully graduated from High school, received her driver’s license and got a full time job in the security industry. Being pregnant in the middle of a worldwide pandemic has not stopped her from moving forward. With the help of the staff at the SISU Center, she managed to get her first apartment and enroll in the EMT course of her dreams where she will cross off yet another one of her goals. Kassandra will be welcoming a baby boy who will join her on this beautiful roller coaster called life in early 2021. She is motivated and dedicated to providing a better life to her child.
- Ashley began working with the Opening Doors program as a 6th grader at the Lawrence Family Development Charter School. After working graduating from LFDCS, she was accepted to St. Mark’s School in Southborough, MA in 2016.
St. Mark’s has provided Ashley with opportunities that would not have been available to her in Lawrence. She joined the sculpture club was in charge of the Los Leones club, a Hispanic group on campus that educates students about culture. She the coxswain for the girl’s crew team and was able to travel around the country for competitions with the team. She was named a dorm prefect her senior year. As a prefect, she was in charge of her residence hall and was responsible for helping freshman adapt to campus and dorm life. As an admissions prefect, she worked with the admissions office providing tours and speaking with parents of new and prospective students. Her favorite subject as St. Mark’s was advanced biology and she developed an interest in studying genetics and cancer.
Ashley will be attending Babson College starting in the Fall of 2020 where hopes to study business.
- Escleury was born in Santiago de los Caballeros in the Dominican Republic. Searching for new opportunities, Escleury’s parents decided to move to Lawrence when he was seven years old. Escleury was referred to SISU in September of 2019. His goal was to learn a trade. After committing to YouthBuild, Lawrence, he participated in SISU’s HiSET prep, Signal Success, Workforce Development, Career Explorations, Art, OSHA, and permit classes. Escleury has volunteered to clean up local parks and has worked at the Bellevue Cemetery with the SISU Landscaping team.
One of his first achievements at SISU was completing OSHA training and earning his OSHA 10 certification. With his OSHA 10 complete, Escleury was able to begin working in the SISU Woodshop. As he developed his skills, he joined the SISU Carpentry crew and helped to build the YouthBuild house on Jackson Street in Lawrence. Despite his success in the SISU Workforce Development program, Escleury struggled with the HiSET prep classes and eventually took time away from our program.
The 2020 pandemic has brought hardships for people all across the world. The world we once knew has changed in many ways and has changed us as well. The Pandemic reawakened Escleury’s motivation and drive. After weeks of being quarantined at home, Escleury realized that he could not sit around and let time continue to pass without taking action towards his goals. Escleury began communicating more with the SISU case management and outreach teams, and was soon ready to work towards taking the Class D Passenger Permit test. After weeks of studying and taking practice tests, Escleury passed the Class D Passenger Permit test and achieved another of his goals.
With businesses closed due to the pandemic, it was challenging for anyone to get a job or begin a vocational training program. However, at the end of June of 2020, Escleury completed an application for the Lawrence Training School’s Asbestos and Deleading program. Still motivated, Escleury maximized the opportunities that were presented to him. Following the new Registry of Motor Vehicle protocols that were put into place due to COVID-19, he worked with his case manager to get his Massachusetts ID.
Escleury completed the Asbestos and Deleading program, became a Licensed Asbestos worker for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and found employment with a local business specializing in residential and commercial environmental projects.
Escleury’s goals and plans have changed, however he has discovered that this is all part of being a young adult and learning through trial and error. One thing that stands out to many people who meet is that he is passionate and enthusiastic. He has mentioned many times that he is truly searching for his purpose in life. He has had some ups and downs, but something that has remained in Escleury is that he truly believed he could overcome any hardships and personal struggles. These attributes are preparing him for a successful journey into adulthood.
Escleury’s continues to work on completing his HiSET and passing his road test. His currents goals include earning his Class D Driver's License and becoming a supervisor with his employer.
- Christopher was born in Lawrence Massachusetts but moved to the Bronx before his first birthday. Christopher’s and his 5 siblings were raised by a single mother. When Christopher was 12 years old, he was expelled from New York Public Schools for bringing a weapon to school and was enrolled in an alternative district school. During 8th grade, Christopher was being recruited by local gangs, and his mother was struggling to maintain the family while working two jobs. Christopher’s grandmother fought for custody and he moved back to Lawrence.
After spending 3 years in the LPS RISE program, Christopher was able to work his way into taking classes at Lawrence High-School. It was the first time since the seventh grade where Christopher was back in a traditional school setting. Christopher picked up a new charge during the last week of his senior year, failed his math course, and was forced to go to summer school. After the summer session, he passed the math MCAS and in August of 2019, he received his High-School Diploma.
With just a High-School Diploma but little work experience, Christopher struggled to find a job. Like so many of his peers, he found himself in out of court where he was approached by a SISU outreach worker. Since arriving to SISU, he has been highly motivated. He one of the first to arrive and is often one of the last young people in the building.
Christopher enrolled in the money management, signal success, workforce development, career explorations, art, OSHA, and permit classes at the SISU Center, and is working his way through the program. Christopher received his OSHA certification, completed the driving permit class in late 2019 and is scheduled to take his permit test. Once Christopher completes his permit and gets his license, he will have conquered two of the goals in his Individual Success Plan.
- Vidal grew up in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. As beautiful as the island is, Vidal was aware from a very young age that Santo Domingo had a lot of problems. To make matter worse his family wasn’t well of by any means, and often relied on what other family members sent back to offset costs. The unemployment rates were unbearable, and basic services such as electricity, water, and public transportation were extremely unreliable.
While Vidal had dreamed of moving to the United States, he had a rough time assimilating to a new school, new people and even a new culture. Although Lawrence has a huge Spanish speaking population, he felt like an outsider, which made the already difficult transition even harder. Vidal didn’t want to go to school and had begun to develop some troubling habits. While he wasn’t yet involved with gangs or drugs, one gang in particular had peaked his interest; a gang that was made up mostly of Dominicans would definitely make him feel like he was back home.
A friend had told Vidal about the SISU center and how he could get help with a lot of things he was working towards, like becoming a US citizen. While at SISU Vidal has taken the lead on several building projects, constructed a resume, completed his Osha 10, and studied hard in his English learners and citizenship prep class. He has worked incredibly hard and at the end of 2019, he became a US citizen.
- When Sandy walks into SISU he delivers an energy that could light up an entire room. At SISU he is our one and only registered jokester and he makes sure to live up to his reputation every single day. In a city surrounded by gang-related activities, it is easy for youth to get off to a bad start. Sandy undoubtedly was one of those youths on a path to self-destruction driven by the bad influence that encompassed his developing and overly curious mind. He left the Dominican Republic when he was 11, was suspended for the first time at 14, and by 18 he was arrested and serving time.
Despite his troubles, Sandy graduated from High school Sandy. However, like so many others, he lacked a plan. He knew he needed to make money but he wasn't really motivated or truly interested in getting a full time job. His lack of direction and choice of peers steered him into gang life. He felt like selling drugs and gang banging was what he was meant to do and gave it his all. Sandy was eventually arrested for trafficking and selling drugs. After serving his time, he was released on probationary conditions to attend the SISU program.
Sandy is a born leader; he is a bright, focused, and determined young man. After living through the horrors of gang life and losing friends to the streets, he chose to embark on a different path, using his gifts and talents to better his life. In early 2019, he was given the opportunity to enroll in Skills Build, a 6 week classroom and hands-on apprenticeship training where he was able to explore different trades such as welding and masonry to find the perfect career match. He has become more ambitious since his training and now has bigger dreams to one day own his own business and hire youth that have similar stories to that of his own and giving them a second chance that they deserve.
- In 2009, Cindia was attending college in the Dominican Republic to become an accountant. Her mother had come to the US before her and had filed paperwork for her to come as well. She came knowing very little of the languages and culture. Learning the language has been a challenge for Cindia but knowing that learning the English is the only way she can achieve her American Dream, she has participated in the ESL program at the Quintana Center.
When she came to the US, Cindia had to put her dream of becoming an accountatn a side, to help her mother. She began working low level in order for me to make a living. She has worked cleaning house/offices/hospitals; she has worked in factories. She had to put school on hold because “life is for those who work for it and want to achieve their dreams.”
In 2018, Cindia decided to become a US citizen, go back to school start working towards “her American Dream.” Her American Dream consist of buying her own house, and becoming a daycare provider
- Growing with a single mom in a Spanish-speaking city, Merik struggled with identifying who he was and where he fit in. He wasn't light skinned enough to fit in with the white kids and was not dark enough nor did he speak Spanish to fit in with the Latino/ Black Students. He constantly felt like an outcast, and became a tough kid looking for attention in all the wrong places. In school, he struggled to focus on academics and found himself getting into trouble.
Drugs were on his radar since the age of 8 and he learned they were a way to make quick money. However, his street success was short lived and he was soon arrested. His already struggling relationship with his family fell apart, and by the age of 18, he was homeless and without a plan. Merik joined a gang in order to protect himself and was soon back to selling drugs. Merik was searching for some sort of change, some way to get out of the street, and get his life together.
In 2017, Merrick discovered the SISU Center. The staff support helped him get back on his feet and he was able to get an apartment with his girlfriend.He continues working to overcome past barriers thanks in part to the personal and professional skills development and concepts he has learned at the SISU Center. In early 2019, Merik was chosen to participate in the Skills Build program where found the confidence he needs to move ahead towards career readiness.
Today, Merik serves as an inspiration to other SISU participants to push themselves out of their comfort zones.
- Frederic was born one of 11 children in the Dominican Republic. At the age of 11, Frederic came to the United States with very little education and little grasp of the English language. Frederic’s parents worked hard to enroll him into the Lawrence Public Schools and made sure his education became a top priority. However, outside of his life at home and in school, Frederic started getting involved in the streets and all that was associated with that lifestyle. Frederic’s goal was to graduate high school and he managed to juggle his life in the street and in the classroom, and graduated from high school in 2015.
Despite graduating high school, Frederic struggled to find a job and began selling drugs. When he realized that selling drugs wasn’t enough, he followed in his father’s footsteps and began working in a factory. With very little job skills and training, he struggled with the workload and quit after only six months and was soon back to selling drugs and spending his time in the streets. At the age of 21, Frederic was arrested for the first time and charged with assault and battery. He was placed on probation and as a part of his probation conditions, was ordered to enroll with SISU and participate within the programs classes.
When Frederic enrolled with SISU in July 2018, he knew that he had to get his life together. He completed the Signal Success program, worked on his resume and received one of the highest scores in a mock interview session.Frederic has worked hard to achieve the goals in individual success plan (ISP) and. He participated in the SISU drivers’ permit class received his permit in November of 2019. He spent time in the SISU computer lab working to complete his OSHA 10 certification and was soon a regular on the SISU morning construction crew.
In early December of 2019, Frederick applied for a job at a local Hardware Store. He was prepared for the interview with an updated resume and the confidence needed to get hired. After his second interview, he was hired as a cashier/sales associate. Frederic is currently working full time and is saving up money for driving classes with the goal of getting his license.
- Gelen came to Lawrence from the Dominican Republic in 2015. She participated in English as a Second Language at the Quintana Family Center from 2015 to 2018 and completed all of the ESL levels the Quintana Center is able to offer. Gelen is currently working with the Center Manager to complete her N-400 Application for Naturalization and participated in the Financial Literacy for Newcomers program.
Gelen will soon be enrolled at Northern Essex Community College, where she plans to major in Finance, which she had studied in the Dominican Republic. With her skills and confidence in her ability to speak English, Gelen has been able to create a new direction for herself
© 2018 Lawrence Prospera