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October 2010

Reaching New Heights

Emeli Suarzo, who dropped out of high school when she became pregnant at 15, works part-time as a receptionist at New Heights Neighborhood Center. She starts at Bronx Community College in September 2010.
Being a teenager is hard enough, but when an unexpected pregnancy is added to the equation, things can become overwhelming. For Emeli Suarzo, being a student no longer seemed possible when she found out she was pregnant at 15.

The rumors ran rampant in her high school hallways and the shame led her to drop out. But Emeli’s is not your run-of-the mill high school dropout sob story.

Emeli came to the realization that she had to pass the General Educational Development (GED) test in order to go to college and provide for herself and her child, what she calls “the minimum requirement to begin a good life.” Her search for a program that could help led her to the doors of New Heights Neighborhood Center in Washington Heights, a group she credits with helping her get her GED. “They’re like the mother and father pushing you to do well!”

Prior to New Heights, Emeli had tried three other programs. She explained that unlike New Heights, they lumped together all students, whatever their level of education: “There were so many different levels in one class . . . if you already knew the stuff, you were waiting for other people to catch up, and so no real progress was ever made.”

The program for high school dropouts at New Heights identified the areas in which Emeli needed academic help and tailored a program that would help her succeed. “Our $50,000 grant in 2007 helped 38 students pass the GED—an investment in futures that has paid off,” says Roderick Jenkins, program officer at The Trust.

“Now, more than ever, we need neighborhood programs and services that focus on helping young adults transition to adulthood,” says Evelyn Fernandez-Ketcham, executive director of New Heights. “After all, it is our responsibility to prepare today’s and tomorrow’s workforce.”

“They had my back the entire time and even helped me put together a good résumé,” continued Emeli. “I now have a desire to become someone better. I already lost too much and I’ve wasted too much time. I just want to keep moving forward.”

Emeli received her GED in May of 2010 and started at Bronx Community College this fall.

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