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NJCDC Celebrates the Academic Achievements of Program Alumni

NJCDC Celebrates the Academic Achievements of Program Alumni

August 18, 2023

At NJCDC, we believe education is vital to unlocking opportunity. Our vision is that our pipeline of programs and services will prepare all 8,000 children living or going to school in the Great Falls Neighborhood to graduate from high school ready for college and a career. This is no small feat for the children and families we serve—only 14% of Paterson adults have a college degree. In the Great Falls Neighborhood, educational attainment is even lower—31% of adults have no high school diploma and only 11% of adults have a college degree. NJCDC is always proud to celebrate the hard work and dedication of Paterson youth who overcome these barriers to get into—and excel in—colleges and universities.

On August 9th, ten young people from Paterson—all of whom are students at or alumni of prestigious universities around the country—gathered for dinner with NJCDC's Founder and CEO, Bob Guarasci. These students got to share their journey of getting into top universities, their experiences as college students from Paterson, and their goals for the future. All of these students were involved with NJCDC's programs throughout high school, and our college readiness programming—including our annual Ivy League tour, our Paterson Youth Council, our Great Falls Youth Center, and our Teen Centers—gave them the motivation and resources to apply to top colleges and succeed as college students.

Chris Valencia, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2021, went on our first annual Ivy League Tour as a high school senior in 2017, where he toured the campuses of Harvard, Yale, and MIT. Chris was the first of the gathered students to attend an Ivy League school, and he inspired some of the other students to apply to top schools. Alysha Acosta, a Paterson Youth Council alum who graduated from Columbia University in 2022, says speaking with Chris' mother convinced her she could apply to an Ivy League school.

I didn't know anyone who went to an Ivy League school, and Cristina inspired me so much by saying 'Chris got in, you can put in the hard work! Apply!'" Alysha said. "I got into Columbia, and honestly I owe it to that experience." Now Alysha is working as a court liaison to get youth in the criminal justice system alternative sentences that don't include incarceration; she plans to go to law school next year.

Other Ivy League schools were represented by Iffat Aniqa, a member of Yale's Class of 2025, Isabela Gonzalez, a member of Harvard's Class of 2026, and Johan Beltre Baez, who will start studying at Brown University this fall. Outside of the Ivy League, several Paterson students are attending Johns Hopkins University, including Emily Cruz, in the Class of 2024, and Juan Marrero, in the Class of 2026.

We are so proud of these students for excelling in school and showing their peers that growing up in Paterson is not a barrier to attending prestigious colleges!

On August 16th, we also gathered with five Paterson students who will be entering college this fall to wish them well on the beginning of their higher education journeys. The students shared where they will be going to school and what they are looking forward to, including new classes and extracurricular activities. After speaking with each other and with NJCDC's CEO Bob Guarasci, the students received gifts of college gear, to give them a head start on showing their school spirit. The students then enjoyed a cake that was decorated with each of their schools' logos.

Lisa Begum will be attending Montclair State University and will be majoring in Business. Maya Mohosin, an alum of the Paterson Youth Council, will be attending Georgetown University, where she plans to major in Government. Another Paterson Youth Council alum, Xavier Clavijo, will be studying Finance at William Paterson University.

Two students will also be attending Rutgers University's School of Pharmacy, enrolling in the six-year PharmD program. Raisha Yeasmin, who has long been involved with NJCDC, receiving the Paterson Youth Council's MLK Youth Recognition Award in 2019 as an eighth grade student and serving as the Paterson Youth Council's Secretary in the past school year. Shuvon Islam is an alum of the Community Charter School of Paterson and valedictorian of his high school class.

Bob encouraged the students to be dedicated to their studies and to take advantage of the opportunities they'll have while at college. "One of the great things about going to college is that you'll learn about things and meet people that are different, that represent a different perspective, or things that you haven't thought of before," he told the students. "It's all part of taking full advantage of college.

We are inspired by and proud of the successes of our alumni and confident that the students following in their footsteps will go on to make their own unique mark on their respective campuses and beyond. Best of luck to all of our scholars in their future endeavors!

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