Leadership graduates leave school $1,000 richer

By Patricia Belizario

Two of the High School for Leadership’s 57 graduates who received $1,000 checks from the World Transformation Center, Nicholas Yara, left, and Min Yu Zeng, center, with Kathy Ollerton of the center.
Fifty-seven seniors from the High School of Leadership and Public Service, who watched the attack on the World Trade Center from their school in Downtown Manhattan, walked away from a reception held after their graduation with a diploma in one hand, and a check for $1,000 in the other.

Before the distribution of the checks, the graduates, parents, and friends in attendance at the reception were unaware of the exact amount to be given. When Kathy Ollerton of the World Transformation Center announced her group was giving each student $1,000, the crowd exploded in delight. Parents began discussing the future use of the checks amongst themselves, with many of the projections revolving around college book money.

“I am so proud of all the graduates; so happy to be a mother,” said Liz Thomas, the mother of Capria Thomas, who will be attending Virginia Commonwealth University in the fall. “I pray that this [check] will help take her further in her education and that she and the other graduates go on to do bigger things.”

The receipt of the checks, as well as their diplomas, was especially joyous to this Class of 2003, the second class to graduate after the events of 9/11. The school is just two blocks south of the World Trade Center, and its principal, Ada Rosario-Dolch, supervised the school’s evacuation as her sister was dying in her Cantor Fitzgerald office.

In addition to the fear of not graduating, Nicholas Lara, an 18-year-old graduate who wants to be a lawyer, remembers returning to the school in 2002. “Honestly…I was just relieved to go back, and that everything was okay…I’m happy I made it.”

Ollerton, co-owner of Prudential California Realty, decided to help the students of Leadership and “give something back to what was taken away from New Yorkers.”

“I would have swept the floor at the mayor’s office, or washed the windows…but then we found these kids,” she said.

She discovered the high school after searching the Internet and contacting Rosario-Dolch. She then flew to New York for what was supposed to be a one-time only visit to the school to help with its restoration.

However, she said, “We saw something in the students. We saw something in their faces and a willingness in their heart and we wanted to stay longer.”

She commenced to assemble thirty volunteers from Prudential and form the World Transformation Center, which aims to help children recover from the emotional and mental traumas resulting from the attack. The agents were trained in grief, crisis, and leadership counseling, and at their own expense, flew to the city three times to meet and counsel the students.

“The children really needed someone to guide them in the right direction,” said Rosario-Dolch. “I recognize that you do not work alone, you can not make things happen alone and that there has to be some other people in our lives to make things happen together. So the moment someone called and said, ‘We want to help the kids’ I said ‘Hurry up and come on down.’”

Each student was given a mentor, who taught them life skills and the values of personal responsibility and accountability, effective goal setting, and money management. To successfully complete the program, the students were required to attend three day-long training sessions, contact their mentors once a week through e-mail or by phone, and most importantly, they had to be accepted into a college, university, or other program of higher education.

Nicole Overstreet, a Leadership Award recipient who addressed the audience, said that learning to trust again and work with others was one of the lessons learned from her mentor that would sustain her throughout her life. In her speech, she recalled an activity that she and her classmates had to accomplish, one that involved cooperation and contributions from everyone. In this activity, if one student faltered everyone had to start from the beginning until they reached the end.

“It was easy to relate this activity to the days after 9/11, when obstacles seemed impossible to get across,” she said. “Eventually, everyone’s input helped to complete the activity. This activity showed me that it’s okay to depend on others to reach the other side.”

Overstreet, who will attend Smith College this fall to study psychology, thanked her mentor Darlene—a recent grandmother who therefore was unable to attend the ceremony—for giving her the courage to look forward to the future.

“There were several times that I felt like I couldn’t go on, but my mentor helped me move through that,” Overstreet said. “She helped me to see that I do have a future…and that’s when I started planning my future and deciding what I want to do…She taught me how to be a leader again.”


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