Last Valentine's Day, with a heavy heart in the wake of the Parkland School mass shooting, I contacted Celina De Sola, the founder of Glasswing, an organization that I’m on the Board of that has an incredible positive impact on kids throughout Latin America, and told her I wanted to pledge $100,000 to work with youth in NYC. I believe that every child deserves to have a community that supports and believes in them, and Glasswing immediately got to work at the International High School, a New York City public school for migrant youth aged between 16 and 22, where almost half of the students hail from Latin America and the Caribbean.
These amazing students, with whom I spent last Wednesday, have been in the US for four years or less, and are still learning English. Many live in single-parent homes, face chronic economic instability, and even homelessness. The Glasswing program, that I passionately support, serves as a vehicle to empower migrant student communities, create opportunities, and motivate high-school students to become effective agents of change in their own diverse communities.
Despite the adversity they face, these kids are not only incredibly resilient, but also determined, curious, engaged, confident, and eager to become the best version of themselves and improve their world. The odds may be stacked against them (by circumstance), but I have no doubt they will succeed, and I feel lucky to be a small part of their transformation and growth.
One thing I found interesting is that when we first announced the internship program, the group consisted of eight male students and three girls. I referred to the girls as my Valentine’s Day heroes, as I know it’s usually the females that step up first to handle responsibilities in Latin American families, and they stepped up to make this program work. When Glasswing started their Reading Club last Fall, only four students showed up on the first day. Today, there are 34 students, and it's only been eight months since the program started.
During my visit, one of the students asked me why I had come to see them and spend time with them, as after all, I was already funding the program. I told them that the same way they read stories and biographies about people from around the world that are heroes to them, I am curious to learn about them and to hear their stories - as they are my heroes.
We are all the same; we have the same needs. I explained to them that I, too, had been an immigrant. My parents had to leave their home country because of political instability, with no money in their pockets. In my case, my circumstances were luckier, but that did not change the fact that I arrived at a boarding school, alone in a foreign country, with no friends and not knowing the spoken language.
In today’s world, the political climate has deeply affected how migrant youth face various political, social, economic, and emotional obstacles. Migration is a traumatic experience, and losing social ties is among the most disruptive aspects of migrating to a new country - which weakens the individual’s capacity for resiliency and mental wellbeing. Once that sense of belonging in their community is disrupted, migrant youth suffer tremendous amounts of instability and psychological distress, which can impede their academic success and personal development, and consequently their contribution as active citizens for positive change.
To donate to Glassing, visit their website here.