Stories about CDI’s determined young people

Opening Doors to a Dream Career


Tobi Alawode

This year 2 students from the High School for Health Professions and Human Services won prestigious Posse Scholarships. Posse which awards full college tuition to students with extraordinary academic and leadership potential who may be overlooked during the traditional college selection process. Tobi Alawode, a senior at HPHS, was one of them. “At first I really wasn’t confident I would get it, but then I got so much encouragement from my CDI advisors that I began to think that maybe I really could!” CDI advisors worked closely with 15 other students who were finalists for the highly selective scholarship, which is awarded by the Posse Foundation to 6,264 high school seniors across the country to attend the college of their choice. Awardees are selected through a unique group model based on the philosophy that students succeed in college when they have the support of their peers, or posse.

The scholarship could not have come at a better time for Tobi and her family. “My parents come from Nigeria and they work hard to afford college for me and my siblings. They are already paying for my brother’s tuition, and sometimes it gets overwhelming. So when I got the Posse Scholarship we were all so excited and relieved. It will open up so many doors for me. I’ve always been fascinated with childbirth and pregnancy and with helping others, so I want to go on to medical school to be an OBGYN.” Tobi will be headed to the University of Wisconsin at Madison this fall where she plans on pursuing a pre-medical track.


 From Courtroom to Classroom: A Graduation Story

Left to right: Judge Lynn Kotler, Jessica Williams, Attorney Eliza Orlins

Left to right: Judge Lynn Kotler, Jessica Williams, Attorney Eliza Orlins

Jessica Williams beamed as she sat in her cap and gown among her graduating class on February 27, 2014 listening to her story being told up at the podium by her attorney Eliza Orlins and Judge Lynn Kotler. Just three years ago Jessica was barely attending high school when she got picked up on gun possession charges and suddenly found herself facing the possibility of a year in prison. “When I first met Jessica she was really scared,” says Orlins, an attorney with The Legal Aid Society. “But she was determined to turn her life around.” Orlins took Jessica’s case and they eventually found themselves in the courtroom of Judge Kotler who also recognized that same determination and decided that Jessica would be far better served in a mentoring program for at-risk youth rather than in jail. “I remember the day she came into the courtroom with her completion certificate from the program. She was so happy – everyone was moved. That’s so unusual. It was a test for her, and she passed it.”

The next step was for Jessica to enroll at Manhattan Comprehensive where she was met with a community of caring and watchful teachers and staff. “Everything changed when I came here,” says Jessica. Though she had the support of her grandmother and her girlfriend, she felt isolated in her neighborhood as she tried to distance herself from her old friends. “For the first time at school I had real support and people saying to me ‘I believe in you.’” Jessica attended school at night and worked at CVS during the day – a CDI internship that will soon turn into a part-time job. Her CDI advisors have also worked closely with her over the past two and a half years to help her get a driver’s license. “I really love to drive – it’s so liberating,” Jessica says. “My goal is to work as a delivery driver and I hope to be accepted into the UPS training program. But I’m also applying to college.”

“Jessica couldn’t be invisible here,” says Margaret Aylward, a CDI Assistant Executive Director. “CDI and school staff took the time to give her the positive reinforcement she needed at every possible chance.” Judge Kotler sees Jessica’s story as a source of hope for many young people. “She had an opportunity and she took it, and this school and CDI gave her the support to stay on track.” Read more about Jessica’s story in The New York Times.


High School Students Today, IT Experts Tomorrow

Ivan 9-19-13 (800x620)

Last fall was a tough time for Ivan. He was skipping classes, avoiding his teachers and classmates and was about to fail out of HPHS. “Ivan is so bright and creative, we knew we had to do something to get him interested in school again,” says Jordan Wesley, CDI’s Site Coordinator at HPHS. “We persuaded him to come into the office to tell us more about his interests. When he told us that he loves computers and gaming we knew the Per Scholas program would be perfect!” The Per Scholas Computer Certificate Program trains high school students from low-income communities for careers in IT. Ivan was intrigued and he enrolled right away along with some of his classmates. The two year-long network-wide program includes bi-weekly career development workshops throughout the school year.

After just a couple months in the program, Ivan began to see school in a new light. “I can’t leave school now,” he told Jordan. “I have the IT program.” Though Ivan still struggles with school attendance, but he didn’t miss any Per Scholas classes. He completed the first year of the program that culminates in an intensive summer-long IT certification training at The New School and final exams, which Ivan and his 15 classmates all passed! This fall Ivan transferred from HPHS across the street to MC to have more opportunities to learn outside a traditional classroom setting. The second year of the Per Scholas program starts in a few weeks. “I’m looking forward to it,” Ivan says. “I really love being able to understand computers from the inside out.” By the end of the entire program Ivan will have received three certifications, completed a competitive internship and will be well on his way to a successful IT career.