Living on the edge of poverty, Emi was unsure if there was a future for her that included college. Enter United Way partner Hyde Square Task Force, and access to a bright future.
As a little girl, Emi’s grandfather would often tell her stories of the great Ceiba tree, how its branches reached into the heavens and its roots deep into the earth. The tree, he said, connected all that was below to all there is above, and that Emi should remember this connection as long as she lived.
And she tried, but the challenges she faced made the stories easy to forget. Her family lived on the edge of poverty, and many of her friends were falling behind in school, either because of their own poverty or because of unrest in their neighborhoods. Just getting to school was tough some days, and she was sometimes unsure if there was a future out there where she went to college. She was certainly smart and capable enough to make it past high school, but without a mentor to guide her toward that goal, Emi was afraid a single misstep could put her on a path that could rob her of her grandfather’s stories forever.
Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF), a United Way of Massachusetts Bay partner agency, changed all that. HSTF is dedicated to providing at-risk Afro-Latin youth in Boston’s Latin Quarter with access to the arts, cultural learning, and professional guidance for their future. The agency offers a number of artistic enrichment programs for dance, music, and theatre, as well as college preparatory services and youth advocacy programs. Emi began participating in HSTF’s theatre team, ¡Acción! Community Theatre (ACT!) when she was a freshman in high school.
Emi came to HSTF initially because she wanted help thinking about her goals. She wanted so much to get into college and wanted someone beside her as she worked toward that big step. She worked with an HSTF mentor from the beginning, who guided her as she searched for her future.
In ACT!, Emi found a part of herself she didn’t expect. Initially a means to express herself and explore her heritage, over time the theatre program showed her what it meant to be a leader. Near the end of high school, Emi became the Associate Director of HSTF’s culminating art project: Raíces. She and her peers were to put on an original production utilizing the Afro-Latin culture of their roots using the Ceiba tree as a central focus. Together, they researched folktales and myths associated with the tree, and as the production began to take shape, Emi was present in every aspect of its development.
Hundreds of hours of training followed. Emi would go on to lead scene rehearsals, work to keep her peers on track, and even give the opening remarks before each performance. “Now I know that it’s not just believing in these myths that matters,” she would say. “It’s understanding that those stories are our roots. They are an oral representation of our cultures, who we are and where we come from. They give us power not just because they make us better listeners, but because through the experiences of others we relate, and we grow.”
It was a lesson Emi’s grandfather would be proud to hear her relate. More than that, the process of building their production gave Emi and her peers the opportunity to develop soft skills they could take beyond HSTF: strong listening and critical thinking skills, as well as the ability to relate to and work with others.
Today, Emi is a student at Northeastern University and takes the lessons she learned at HSTF with her wherever she goes. They were lessons that connected her not to what was above and below, but to everything around her.
Snapshot: How we’re preparing youth for success
- $5.5M – United Way’s annual investment in Preparing Youth for Success
- 52,442 – Youth participated in out-of-school time programs to help develop social-emotional skills like critical thinking and teamwork
- 3,421 – Youth age 16 to 24 engaged in college and career pathway programs
We work with 117 strategic partner agencies in 142 communities to prepare youth for success. Our partners include:
- Hyde Square Task Force
- College Bound Dorchester
- For Kids Only
- Sociedad Latina
Make A Financial Impact
Provides 10 students with activities, supplies, and books that help stimulate learning and build pre-literacy, math and social skills.
Funds summer learning and enrichment programs for 4 elementary school children.
Funds Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM) experiences for 20 middle school children.
Provides a youth worker with professional development in social and emotional learning.