The Impact of Giving Back
Confidence is a key to success, according to a mentor and alumna from Community Impact’s Mentoring Youth in New York City (MyNYC) program, and they should know.
Karima Jackson, CC ‘13 and Shirley Urena, BC ’15, were classmates at the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics (MCMS), a public high school in East Harlem (Shirley entered 9th grade as Karima began her junior year) where they shared Spanish and computer classes and both developed a love of community service. While the two intelligent, talented students excelled during their high school careers, during the years that each applied to college, they were apprehensive.
“I wasn’t even going to apply to Columbia,” said Karima, adding that at the time she thought she was not smart enough. “I had high grades, but who doesn’t have high grades? That doesn’t mean anything.” She managed to build confidence thanks largely to support from her family, friends, and community, eventually applying and being offered admission to Columbia: “It’s always been because of other people pushing me, and seeing [what] I don’t always see in myself.”
Upon beginning at Columbia, Karima sought opportunities to give back, quickly becoming a Community Impact volunteer. She became a volunteer with Mentoring Youth in New York City (MyNYC), through which Columbia and Barnard students develop individual mentoring relationships with students at MCMS to provide SAT, college, and career preparation as well as opportunities for cultural enrichment. Karima now found herself returning to her high school, where she reunited with her old friend Shirley.
By this point, Shirley was herself a nervous high school senior approaching the daunting process of filling out applications, writing essays, and waiting for admission letters. Much as Karima had been, the Bronx native was unsure how all of it would unfold. However, she didn’t face it alone, as Karima had signed on as Shirley’s mentor through MyNYC.
As active as Shirley was in her community, seeking out a mentor “was the one thing [she] did for herself.” Having to face down the unfamiliar process of applying for schools, she says the mentorship made a crucial difference by helping her to realize her own potential.
A year later, Shirley is a freshman at Barnard College, where she’s currently taking courses in English, French, and International Politics. Yet for all her hard work and success, she’s not one to pat herself on the back. “I usually credit it all to MyNYC,” she said. “Karima was the one who helped me with my essays, and she was just really supportive.”
As Karima ultimately judged, character was decisive in becoming a member of the Columbia community, not just grades. “They honestly want to see that you’re a fit in this school, and that you’re going to be a leader here.”
Eager as ever to serve their communities, Karima and Shirley reunited yet again on their new campus. Both have worked with Community Impact as TASC high school equivalency program tutors, assisting adults in achieving high school equivalency diplomas and provide them with training for college and employment.
This article first appeared in CI's Fall 2011 newsletter. Pictured above: Shirley Urena