Ft. Lauderdale Yale Day of Service Event
The Yale Day of Service (YDOS) event in Ft. Lauderdale was organized and coordinated by serial humanitarian David Sanchez, President of the Yale Club of South Florida. The event was spread over two days – Friday May 8th and Saturday May 9th – to accommodate the schedules of busy alumni, with three participation options available. I recall being immediately impressed by the clear pre-event instructions David provided to attendees so that alumni knew what to expect and what might be expected of them. Requested dress code was casual attire.
The YDOS event was held at the non-profit organization aptly named HANDY which is an acronym for Helping Abused Neglected Disadvantaged Youth. Conveniently located in the “old” section of downtown Ft. Lauderdale, HANDY was easy to find and reach by car and provided suitable front and side street parking. A total of eighteen alumni and their guests attended over the two days; although many more than that number had registered. Given the small intimate setting HANDY provides, in my view at least, the smaller numbers allowed for closer and more personal interactions between and among alumni, staff and students including sharing an unrushed “down home” catered meal.
The brilliance of David Sanchez’s selection of HANDY as the Ft. Lauderdale YDOS project shone brightly as soon as my wife Christine and I arrived and rang the bell. Devon affectionately known as DJ, opened the door, warmly inviting us welcome, then Shanitta and Nakitta enthusiastically introduced themselves as our tour guides. Both showed us around the facility including introducing us to staff members. During this personalized tour, we met Executive Director Evan Goldman, Esq. and other staff members, then they took us out to the backyard where two male students—Devon and Wesley—were posing as statutes in the garden. This gave us a nice chuckle and set a friendly tone for the day. Later we would meet Marc and another student who was Auntie Felecia’s daughter. .
When we returned inside, I was momentarily puzzled by the terms the students were using such as “This is Uncle E” or “This is Aunt Felecia” – we’re a family” while introducing HANDY staff to us. Uncle E. referred to Evan Goldman, Esq., HANDY’s Executive Director and Aunt Felecia referred to a former program bus driver who is now in-house staff. We attended the Saturday afternoon session scheduled from 1PM-3PM but since our visit was so enjoyable, we stayed until 4:30PM – sharing a meal and getting to know the staff and students better. The food was particularly tasty, so we lingered, and had a chance to interact with other alumni too.
The goal of this YDOS project was for alumni of Yale, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton and West Point residing in Broward County, Florida to share their expertise in fund raising, possible sources for grants and donations, introductions to resources in the greater community, tutoring, sponsorship of scholarships, field trips, etc. to help HANDY meet their objectives and achieve success. HANDY’s primary mission is to embrace, educate, and empower vulnerable youth to become engaged, productive adults. HANDY, Inc. has achieved a 95% high school graduation rate and serves approximately 1300 youth every year. Of the 95% who graduate high school, 100% of them go on to attend a college of their choice.
It’s not possible to walk through HANDY’s doors and not be touched by the stories of hurt, pain and betrayal all of these young people have endured in their short lives. It was inspiring to listen to both students and staff explain how each had overcome and successfully adapted against tremendous odds including suffering through all forms of emotional, physical and verbal abuse. Staff told alumni present how certain home situations were so deplorable that some children had no beds or mattresses to sleep on; others had to be removed from their families due to unsafe conditions or because their family had become homeless.
Yet despite the enormous difficulties faced by these students, all remained upbeat and their individuality shone through clearly as each one spoke to alumni. I’m quite sure that this YDOS project will be memorable for all alumni who attended since I could see in their countenance how the stories of each student resonated to a level of a bodily feltsense of “I get it and I want to help!” Perhaps the most moving aspect of our time spent at HANDY came when David asked us to watch the 7 minute video where Terran Uribe tells his personal HANDY story. As we wiped away our tears as we watched, we sighed with relief that there was indeed a happy ending to his story.
Additionally, David Sanchez asked us to watch a second video where the students speaking on camera were also in the room. Later, we marveled at the poise, style, ease and grace of each student after listening to their tales of woe and forced creative growth. Their individual ability to clearly articulate how helpless and hopeless they felt but now had hope due to being part of the HANDY family almost brought everyone to tears. It goes without saying, that what we witnessed at HANDY is a remarkable testament to the power of the human spirit! And, with nurturing and proper support, it’s clear that it’s possible for all of these at risk youth to excel.
Cara Malave, Director of Program Operations eloquently answered questions and laid out the specific needs of HANDY including requests for computer equipment, away at college student care packages, gift cards, food and transportation sponsorships, development, and the holiday gift drive. We also marveled at her ability to multi-task since she is obtaining 2 masters degrees while simultaneously working full time at HANDY. Later, David Sanchez emphasized how alumni could play a sustainable supportive role by utilizing their networks in a symbiotic manner to synergistically maximize HANDY’s impact within the community. Moreover, I was impressed by David’s vision of seeking ways to elevate HANDY’s effectiveness while concomitantly keeping an eye on how such a successful organization could be efficiently modeled and duplicated by Yale alumni clubs in other areas of the country.
In closing, I would like to commend David Sanchez for selecting such an outstanding venue for the Ft. Lauderdale YDOS project. I and others were moved by our visit to HANDY and I’m quite sure that the authentic appeal to alumni was heartfelt. If you would like to become a beacon of hope for the students and staff at HANDY, please reach out to either David Sanchez at firstname.lastname@example.org or Evan Goldman at EGoldman@HANDYinc.org. With your strong support, you can begin to change lives for the better at HANDY and beyond!
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