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Partner Spotlight

Investing in Students from Day One: Why I Mentor with Take Stock in Children, a 2U Community Partner

Written by Marilyn Gliwitzki Abrahams on Aug 16, 2021

Related content: Corporate Social Responsibility, Strategic Partnerships

Two years ago, 2U began searching for a community partner near our Boca Raton office that aligned with our mission to provide greater access to quality education for all kinds of learners. Located in West Palm Beach, Take Stock in Children immediately came to my mind as the perfect recommendation. This non-profit organization’s impact on the educational achievements of underrepresented student populations across Florida is undeniable.

TSIC—which celebrated 25 years of service last year—works throughout the state to break the cycle of poverty for low-income, academically qualified students by providing opportunities for post-secondary education. Across 29 schools in Palm Beach County alone, TSIC currently supports over 1,200 students in middle school, high school, and all the way through college through mentorship, college readiness and success coaching, and scholarships. The organization’s outcomes show exceptional success rates: 74% of TSIC students complete college, compared to Florida’s average of 27% for students in poverty. Our mission-alignment and shared commitment to student success made our partnership a no-brainer.

Today, I’m one of several mentors from 2U who’ve worked with TSIC since the partnership began. My mentee is an incredibly smart young woman who’s both a regular teenager worried about things like peer pressure and her looks, and is a rising senior with unique needs who suffers from painful shyness, confidence issues, and panic attacks at times. While TSIC’s college guidance team has been helping her with test prep and college application essays, I Zoom with her twice a week for non-judgmental “safe time”—really listening to her and asking questions to help her clarify and activate her goals (she wants to major in education and minor in business) and remind her that she is OK just the way she is. I’m proud to work for a company like 2U that gives me the opportunity to help kids in my area maximize their potential, and to witness the success of our collective effort nearly every day.

2U's Beth Napurano, another mentor, with her mentee at TSIC's Back to School Shopping event

TSIC’s Passionate Leader, Who Started Just Like Me

One of the things I love most about TSIC is that the organization is run by someone who knows what it takes to work directly with kids, building trusting relationships with them from the ground up and supporting them every step of the way. Executive Director Nancy Stellway started with TSIC just like me—as a mentor 12 years ago. I recently connected with Nancy to talk more about the unique aspects of TSIC and our partnership. Here’s what she had to share.

What was your experience like when you were connected with your first mentee?

Nancy Stellway (NS): For as much as I worked with my mentee, I got just as much back, if not more. She was very bright and originally from Cuba. She and her father had crossed over the border in Texas, where they were held for six months. They got sponsored and moved to Florida, but her father kept changing her school every year, which prohibited her from developing close friends. She had a lot of baggage—she left her mom in Cuba and was called a “bastard child” because her parents never married. She worried that would be a real issue for her in the U.S. I was part of the support system to help keep her going and challenge herself. She majored in biology in college and now she’s married with two children and working in the medical field, going back to school soon to become a doctor.

TSIC remains committed to students until they complete college and even beyond. That’s where the real rubber hits the road—that long-term support and pretty much unconditional investment right from the start. They become an immediate part of our family.
— Nancy Stellway, Executive Director, Take Stock in Children

What are some aspects of TSIC you love most?

NS: What’s so unique about TSIC is that, when you bring a new student into the program and tell them on day one, “We're going to give you a mentor, a college-readiness coach, and workshops, and we're going to help you prepare for the ACT, apply to college, and get scholarships,” you change that student’s mindset early on. Then the parents get on board, because we’re truly a village working together to stop them from thinking they’re never going to college because no one in their family went and they don’t see the value in it. Many organizations work with kids just in elementary or middle or high school, but TSIC remains committed to our students until they complete college and even beyond. To me, that’s where the real rubber hits the road—that long-term support and pretty much unconditional investment right from the start. They become an immediate part of our family.

How does your commitment to each student impact the greater Florida community?

NS: I always say, what good are those scholarships that go to the “cream of the crop” students who’ll succeed no matter what? And even if you give $1,000 to a low-income student, the money isn't the answer; it’s the hand-holding. TSIC doesn’t “cherry-pick” the kids we work with. But we know the question isn’t if we’re going to get them through college, but how we’re going to do it. To me, we’re not just providing money as a band-aid. We really want to help fix this poverty issue in Florida, and the only way to do it is to invest in their education as early as we can, and stick with them through all the ups and downs.

Three recent graduates from the TSIC program

What are some of your most memorable student success stories so far?

NS: There’s honestly a new one almost every week, but one that really stands out is this girl who came from Haiti. She was bouncing from system to system—her parents passed away and her sisters weren’t much in the picture. She wanted to challenge herself with harder math classes but kept failing. We helped her find a tutor, and she ended up with As and a full ride to the University of Florida, studying nursing. We have another student from Haiti who was living in a shelter but about to be kicked out for not living up to his commitments there. We worked through some tough love with him, all the while telling him how intelligent he is and how he can make a great life for himself if he just leans into the support. He also attends the University of Florida and is often distracted by girls chasing him. I remind him to keep his eyes on the prize and protect that investment in himself. We really do support the whole child.

Beyond the volunteers and financial support, what else are you looking forward to with TSIC and 2U’s continued partnership?

NS: We recently started Community Showcases as a way to bring in professionals to talk to kids about what they do and how they got where they are. I’m excited for 2U to join to show kids that, even within a single company, there are so many different roles and different things people do in their jobs. Maybe we could start internships for our students or find pathways to courses offered through 2U. I love all the possibilities! I also want to keep those care packages going with the inspirational messages that 2U writes for our college students. Think about it: When you’re alone in your dorm room and you’ve had a rough day, and you get a box of goodies personally chosen for you with a handwritten note from someone saying, “You can do this and I believe in you”—that’s huge.

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