Columbia University Liberty Partnerships Program Alumni
“If it wasn’t for this program, I would have never finished high school. I would have given up.” Efrain Guzman-Rodriguez was one of the first high school students we worked with when our Achievement Initiative (AI) program opened in 2012. Efrain was an 11th grader at Bread and Roses Integrated Arts High School when he joined our school-based student support program. “Those first years I wouldn’t really care about going to school, to be honest with you. I was having trouble with school, issues outside of school, and never had anybody to talk to or help me out. After joining AI, I had a reason to go to school.”
Where is Efrain now?
Back with our program, of course. Efrain is completing a college internship with the Columbia LPP and is ready to graduate from SUNY Morrisville in December 2019 with his bachelor’s degree. “In high school, I always needed help and guidance, so I knew that when I got older and went to college, I wanted to give back.” Efrain decided that pursuing a psychology major in human services was a good way to give him the training in a career to give back to youth. While in college, he kept in touch with our Program Coordinator from his high school days and reached out to her to ask about internship opportunities with us. Efrain is now interning four days a week at two of our partner schools, facilitating young men’s groups, helping students set goals to complete their personal learning plans, inspiring students with tales of his own college experience, and providing mentorship to struggling students like Efrain once was.
High school was a struggle for Efrain until our program intervened. As he tells the story, he was really confused about what he wanted to do, was struggling with some classes, and was ready to give up. Then “some lady” walked into his class announcing a new program in the school and invited students to visit her in the school-based program office. The rest, as they say, is history. “Some lady” turned out to be the Program Coordinator who still maintains contact with Efrain years later.
We connected Efrain with two paid internships during his high school career, one with the legendary Apollo Theater on 125th Street in Harlem as an IT Intern, and the other with the Museum of Modern Art to create an original piece of modern art that was displayed at an international art show, and is still in MOMA’s possession to this day. Our program helped him with his class projects and papers, sat with him to work through college applications, essays and financial aid, and provided him with space in our office to do his homework. He says, “Motivational conversations with AI really helped me with my attendance and academics.”
The reach of our program’s impact didn’t stop with Efrain, however. Efrain is the youngest in his family, and the first to go to college. His personal growth, experience, and ultimate success in college motivated and inspired both of his older siblings to later pursue their education. His older sister went back to school and is in college studying to be a surgical technician, while also working as a dental assistant. His older brother got accepted into an art program and is now passionately pursuing his art career, going to galleries, and selling his work.
Efrain is beautiful proof that our program has profound impacts on not the just the students we serve in middle and high school, but also their families, and sometimes even the next generation of students who they return to work with as interns or as professionals themselves. We are proud of our school-based program that currently partners with three Harlem public schools to provide comprehensive support services. We staff a full-time, licensed social worker at each school, as well as graduate social work students and undergraduate mentors and tutors, most of whom are Opportunity Program students, including Efrain, and serve as ideal mentors to high school students who have similar background and experiences to their own. We are excited to see where Efrain goes next; he’s talking about becoming a guidance counselor, or “…maybe a Dean.” To Efrain, we say, go for it all: Dean, Principal, President! We’re rooting for you, and for every single student out there.