Within a few short minutes of the broadcast of the below, we were honored and delighted to receive the following response from Mayor de Blasio:
From: Bill de Blasio
Sent: Monday, December 2, 2019 3:12 PM
To: Rabbi Moshe Wiener <email@example.com>
Subject: Fw: Help High-Risk Students Graduate!
Rabbi, this story is simply amazing! You and your team should be very proud. Nothing short of a miracle!
Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island (JCCGCI) has the honor of assisting over 2,500 New Yorkers each day. As Giving Tuesday approaches this December 3rd, please be generous and join us in making a real difference in people’s lives.
Below is a real story about one teen who we were able to help with the services of our “Horizons Academy” college and career preparation program and through the support of people like you.
For the past twelve (12) years, Horizons Academy has had unimaginable success transforming the lives of high school students who were at high-risk of drop-out. Some had addiction problems. Others had run-ins with the criminal justice system, or were single parents or grew up in foster care or had mental health issues (such as being suicidal). Just in the past six years and against all odds, 100% of the 998 students enrolled in our Horizons Academy program graduated High School and 90 percent went on to college (or another productive engagement)!
Student who Suffered Abuse, Homelessness, Rape and Bullying Turns His Life Around with Help from Horizons Academy
By the time John (name has been changed to protect the privacy of the student) attended his first Horizons Academy event in 10th grade, he had been homeless for seven years, bullied, suffered abuse, tried to commit suicide several times and spent several weeks in a hospital psychiatric ward.
John had been so traumatized during his 16 short years of life that he was terrified to speak to peers or adults and had missed so much school that he was barely passing most of his classes. The first event he attended our Horizons Academy in-school program located at Abraham Lincoln High School in Coney Island was ‘Horizon Circle’, a discussion group for teens, and the topic on this particular day was healthy relationships. “I cracked like an egg. I just broke down and started crying,” John said. “It was strange for me because I felt safe and I wasn’t used to that. It really hit me and I started showing up more to Horizons activities after that.”
John began to take advantage of many of the invaluable services provided to at-risk high school students through the Horizons Academy including studying skills, college and career counseling, SAT prep, tutoring, resume writing, internship placement, and free computer access in a state-of-the-art technology lab.
But the emotional support and guidance, lasting friendships, life lessons, coping skills and feeling that he had found a true family in Horizons Academy was what really transformed his life.
“Miss Marissa, Miss Danielle and Miss Geneva [names of Horizons Academy staff] acted like the family I wish I had growing up,” John said. “They were the ones who were supportive; they were the ones who were there; they were the ones who checked up on me. The only people I had that did that were my mother and my brother, and having a program like Horizons that did that too — it spoke volumes and it made me really understand that I was a part of something great.”
“It meant a lot being able to see what it was like to have a proper authority figure and a proper support system in my life. I had never experienced that. The program became like a home to me, and being homeless most of my life, I always knew I was safe when I went to Horizons.”
Thanks to Horizons Academy, John was transformed from being so emotionally fragile that he felt “broken” just from having a conversation – to become instead a self-described “social butterfly” who, in his senior year became president of Horizons, president of the Social Studies Club, president of the Anime Club, a swimming teacher’s assistant and a stage manager for theater production. “I was able to actually see the potential that I had in me. I went from someone who was so shy — being in a room with 10 people could just break me — to being able to help run theater shows, to help teach people how to swim, to running clubs and being a support system for other people.”
“I’ve learned how to communicate with people properly, how to study properly and how to be myself properly, which is just being me. I learned from people like Miss Marissa, Miss Danielle and Miss Geneva [Horizons Academy staff] and they became such an important part of my life that I don’t think anyone can replace what they’ve done for me.”
Now 19, John just completed his freshman year as a biology major at college. He serves as elections coordinator for student government; the club and sports liaison for the residence council, a SUNY community college representative and a volunteer campus ambassador, helping those in need access services like the food pantry and organizing a walk in which students delivered food and flashlights to the homeless.
Horizons Academy’s main mission is to inspire high school students to remain in school, graduate with a high school diploma and remain engaged in either post-secondary education, career training, the military or paid employment for at least one full year following graduation.
While it was initially focused solely on career counseling and academic coaching, with the support of additional funding, Horizons Academy has expanded to also include SAT preparation, college counseling, tutoring, leadership classes, job readiness workshops and internship placement assistance, computer studies and meditation, art, life coaching and financial literacy training.
Even though he is now a successful college student, John still goes back to visit Horizons Academy and continues to feel like it is his home. “The program stops after you leave high school but the support doesn’t. Horizons became my home and I will always be grateful for the way it changed my life.”