Thursday

Simon Partnerships, Two Summer Events Generate $350K in Support for SYF

Summertime is the season for golf and backyard get-togethers, and this year Simon served up both . . . with a generous, orange twist.  Simon employees and corporate partners hit the links at Legends Golf Course in Franklin, Indiana on June 27th for the 7th Annual Tees for Education, and they gathered again to mingle and soak up summer on July 12th for the 3rd Annual Founders Celebration.  The two events combined to generate $350,000 in support for Simon Youth Foundation!

Founders Celebration attendees also had an opportunity to experience the true impact of SYF on the life of an individual student when they met Brandon Pressley – a 2013 graduate of Simon Youth Academy at Opry Mills. Brandon’s story captivated Simon employees earlier in 2014, and his presence this summer was a pleasant surprise for SYF’s founders, founding board members and most steadfast supporters. 

At SYF, every penny raised is put to good use.  Every $1,000 raised is celebrated, as it builds capacity to serve one more student. $350,000 raised brings impact at a level that’s almost difficult to imagine.  Through the generosity of Simon employees and corporate partners, two events alone will completely support 350 students from enrollment in a Simon Youth Academy through graduation day.  350 students like Brandon will have brighter futures. That’s the #PowerOfOrange!

Long list of firsts characterizes SYF Scholarship recipient

Karla Garcia is a 2014 Simon Youth Community Scholarship recipient, a first-generation American, the first in her family to graduate from high school and the first in her family to attend college.  She was kind enough to send the following note to SYF, and we want to share it with our supporters and advocates – the people who have made it possible for us to play a role in Karla’s educational pursuits.

Dear SYF team,

Thank you for your generous contribution toward my higher education through the Simon Youth Scholarship program.  One month ago, I became the first person in my family to graduate from high school, and in a few weeks, I’ll be the first to attend college.

My parents are from a small, rural pueblo in Mexico, where the violation of basic civil rights is part of everyday life.  It’s no place to raise children.  My parents sacrificed everything and moved away from family and friends to provide me an opportunity to pursue the American dream – to fulfill my potential – in this blessed nation.

Here, in our great country, I am free.  I have a voice.  I am independent.  And I can be prosperous! The journey as a first-generation American has not been easy, but it has been entirely worth it.  I am so blessed by wonderful people and organizations – like SYF – that support youth like me in realizing and pursuing our dreams.

When my father first came to the United States at the age of 16, his very first job was at the power plant at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  This fall, I will be able to return to UNC, not as a laborer, but as a college student.  I am the eldest in my family and hope to set the example of hard work, resilience and discipline for my younger siblings.

As I enter my college career and professional life, my mission is to make the lives of others better and to serve selflessly.  Professionally, I hope to contribute to closing the education gap for minorities, so that we diversify the leadership of our country, and hence, bring forth unique knowledge and experiences.  I also hope to enter the realm of local politics and public affairs . . . perhaps on the school board, city council, Congress, and maybe even the Presidency one day. “Karla in 2040” has a nice ring to it!

Thank you for making this possible.

With the most sincere gratitude,
Karla G. Garcia
2014 Graduate and SYF Scholarship Recipient

1,000 diplomas = $350,000,000 impact

One by one, more than 1,000 students at Simon Youth Academies from Seattle to Orlando accepted their high school diplomas during the seven-week-long 2014 graduation season. 

At some recent point, each of these graduates was at-risk of becoming a dropout statistic, and many expressed the sentiment of feeling like only a number in their traditional high schools. But their Academy experience was different – richer, more flexible and marked by personal attention.  At the Academies, students described feeling significant, often for the first time in their young lives.  They came to see themselves as much more than a statistic or a number.

Now, as high school graduates, numbers help tell their collective story in a new way.  Each graduate will earn on-average $350,000 more over the course of their lifetimes than students who drop out.  Among this most recent group of Academy graduates, their boosted earning potential adds up to $350 million in positive economic impact! And for our students who continue their educational pursuits at 2- or 4-year institutions, that number will increase.

Here’s one final math lesson to wrap up the 2013-14 school year:


Tuesday

“Thank you for saving my son.”

Students who graduated this year from Simon Youth Academy at Northgate Mall in Seattle, Washington heard remarks from a non-traditional commencement speaker – their classmate’s mother.  Jen Gonyer-Donohue shared the following reflections on her son’s year at the Academy and the positive impact her family has experienced:

I must admit: it feels a bit strange standing up here in front of all of you when I’m not an Academy student. I’m not a teacher. I’m not a Seattle celebrity, politician, or a local hero who did something amazing in the community. I’m just a mom… a mom whose heart is bursting with happiness for every single one of you tonight.

I was asked to speak for a few minutes and reflect on Simon Youth Academy at Northgate Mall and to share “our story.” There’s a problem with sharing “our story” though. You see, our story begins at a very low point in our lives, when another school failed us and was bringing us to our knees – the last school in the district to do so in a long string of schools starting in 2002. But instead of rehashing the negative historical context, I want to tell you about a year . . . this last school year at the Academy.

This last year at Simon Youth Academy at Northgate Mall, my son was given the opportunity take as many classes as he wanted so that he could finally learn at his own pace. The first day of the school year in September, he had the credits of a junior. Today, he is a graduated senior.

This last year at Simon Youth Academy at Northgate Mall, my son was no longer micromanaged and coddled to death by the IEP system. Instead, his teachers presented opportunities to him, guided him, but ultimately held him accountable for his own learning and progress. He rose to the occasion and learned – finally – what it means to take responsibility for his own education. The teachers at the Academy empowered him to take control of his own learning. Instead of treating him as a child in a state of arrested development, the Academy allowed him to grow and transition into adulthood.

It hasn’t been easy. There is the old saying about leading a horse to water… and I must admit there are some days I poured the water down the horse’s throat. But the Academy gave us that water.

One year ago this month, we found ourselves begging our son to not drop out. We understood how awful school was for him, but it was all we could do to keep him in. Fast forward one year later, and my new high school graduate is researching community college programs and filling out applications for next fall. I can only attribute this to Simon Youth Academy at Northgate Mall.

Thank you for saving my son. Or better put, thank you for giving my son the chance to save himself. Thank you for empowering all of these graduates to advocate for themselves, and to take control of their own education and destiny. Simon Youth Academy at Northgate Mall is a success because each one of you is a success. 

I’m looking out at the audience and see many people nodding their heads in agreement. I am sure that if we passed the mic around, many of you would share similar sentiments of gratitude to the Academy.


Graduates, please know that all of us – family you were born into and family you created, guardians, friends, and everyone who loves you – we are all terribly, terribly proud of you and we know you will do amazing things with your lives. Now go out there and do good in the world and continue to make us – and yourselves – proud.

Monday

The Masquerade Announces Larry Bird as 2014 Honoree

Celebration of Hoosier Basketball Legend to Benefit Simon Youth Foundation and Pacers Foundation

Indiana basketball legend, NBA Hall of Famer and Pacers President of Basketball Operations Larry Bird will be the honoree at The Masquerade at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in downtown Indianapolis on Saturday, October 25, 2014.

From his early days at Springs Valley High School in French Lick, Ind. and Indiana State University to his renowned NBA career with the Boston Celtics and now with the Indiana Pacers, Bird always has risen to the top as a hardworking leader who inspires others to excel on and off the court. 
 
The Masquerade, now in its 13th year, is an annual tradition that has earned the reputation of being one of the most impactful, entertaining events in Indianapolis. More than $8.5 million has been raised in support of critical education and mentoring programs for at-risk youth.  

In 2014, the tradition continues as Simon Youth Foundation and Pacers Foundation team up to deliver another unforgettable Masquerade experience, with proceeds benefitting the programs of both organizations. 

Entertainment and other event details will be revealed in the weeks ahead.

The Masquerade is made possible through the generous support of PNC Bank as it returns to serve as the event's title sponsor. For ticket and sponsorship information, please contact Brandi Young at (317) 263-7694 or byoung@simon.com.

Friday

In Their Own Words: Excerpts from Simon Youth Academy Students’ 2014 Graduation Speeches


"Great moments are born out of great opportunities."

I stand before you as a proud graduate of the Peabody Learning Academy  . . .  This program gave me back my life, and for that I will always be greatful. Being sick for many years has been what’s defined me, that is until this year. Now I am defined by what I can do.  This program gave me the independence to succeed academically, plan for college and dream of my future.

How do you say “thank you” for that? I have decided the best way to give back to my school is to go out in the world and make a difference. 


I want to be a pediatrician and work with kids like myself. I want to show them with determination, hard work, and a positive attitude, you can do anything. My goal is to work with chronically ill children. I understand this patient demographic will be challenging, but I anticipate and look forward to sharing some of my own experiences.

I want to thank everyone who has believed in me, encouraged me, stood by me and helped me. With all of your support and love, it has been an amazing year. I would like to say a special thank you to Mr. Bedard for finding me and encouraging me, and to Mark Whiting for introducing this program to Peabody.

Great moments are born out of great opportunities, and that is exactly what I am experiencing today. Thank you, Peabody Learning Academy. I will always be proud to call you my alma mater.

Nichole Kernweis ‘14
Simon Youth Peabody Learning Academy at Northshore Mall
Peabody, MA


"Here, I wasn’t just another student."

I would like to say “thank you” to everyone who supported me through this journey.  We went through some really rough times together, but we made it!

To the staff at the Academy: thank you for making this so much more than just a school.  I learned skills that will help me in the real world – skills that you can’t learn in a book.  I am so grateful that I got to do things like volunteer for my third grade teacher.  It was just one of the many experiences that I will never forget. 

Graduating means so much more because I had to overcome obstacles to earn my diploma.  And the Academy helped me overcome those obstacles.  Here, I wasn’t just another student.  I was part of a family.

Logan Carter ‘14
Simon Youth Clark Pleasant Academy
Whiteland, IN


Not Just Another Graduation Speech












The  Simon Youth Foundation Academy team in Wichita, KS celebrating Graduation Day and the Power of Orange.


On May 21, 2014, Simon Youth Academies at Towne East Square, Towne West Square and Dunbar Adult Learning Center in Wichita, Kansas celebrated the graduation of 47 students – each one a remarkable individual exemplifying personal triumph over challenges.  These students are far from ordinary, and so was the graduation address offered by Renee Erickson, Principal, Learning Centers of Wichita:

I’ve titled tonight’s remarks, “Not Just Another Graduation Speech.”  Why? Because you are not just another group of graduates.

Most graduation speeches are ladled with “The World is Your Oyster” and “You Can Be Anything You Want” messages as well as inspirational quotes and poems from world intellects. While appropriate, it just didn’t feel right when I tried to craft a message along those lines. I couldn’t put my finger on why until about 3:00 a.m. in the morning a few days ago. 

The majority of this year’s traditional high school graduates have been full-time students since 2001. They haven’t had to give too much thought to what was happening from year-to-year  -  5th grade became 6th grade became 7th grade,  and so on.  Most took for granted that they would continue climbing the school years ladder until 12th grade, which would conclude with a graduation ceremony, much like this one tonight. At their post-graduation celebrations, they would, no doubt, thank their teachers for inspiring and motivating them – rightfully so! Still, though, after the excitement subsides and the graduation money is spent, for the first time in their lives, they are faced with the daunting question: Now what?

You encountered this life question a long time ago. For this year’s Learning Centers graduates, there are no two stories alike, nothing has been taken for granted, and a great deal of thought has been given to what was happening not only from year-to-year, but day-to-day.  The ladders you’ve had to climb may be taller and shakier, yet, like your traditional school counterparts, you have been generous in giving thanks to your teachers and staff at the Learning Centers. And there is the answer to why I couldn’t deliver just another graduation speech.

I’m confident that I speak for the entire staff when I say YOU inspire US! We should be thanking you. So I asked the staff to write thank you notes to our graduates and here is what they said:

Thank You for …
Trusting me with your thoughts in writing.
Being thankful to me.
Showing me what it’s like to persevere.
Tackling your fears of math.
For not giving up.
Thank you for making school a priority.
For helping others out
Coming in with no sleep after being up all night working 3rd shift (you know who you are)
For coming on days you didn’t feel like it!
For being a great person!
For sticking with it!
For attending regularly!
For supporting your family while going to school!
For being a great parent!
For attending workshops!
For always being an “up” person!
For sharing your story!
For allowing us to share this joyous occasion with you.
For being willing to help other students with Apex.
Completing your study guides.
Bringing delicious food.
Being attentive and respectful during speakers.
Translating when Spanish speakers call.
Sharing pictures of your children. 
Showing me how to work my iPhone.
Helping decorate the classroom for Christmas, spring, and Valentines.
Thank you for appreciating living life to the fullest.
Words of wisdom like “I like my days to be as full as possible.”
Thank you for being good models of leadership and determination.
For modeling sacrifice.
For commitment and hard work.
Thank you for reminding me why I went into education.
For being living examples of the virtues I aspire to possess.
For making how I earn my living a joy rather than a job.
For making me a better person.

As you can see, you are NOT just another group of graduates!

As you leave here this evening, I know you will continue to be the source of inspiration and gratitude for those fortunate enough to know you.

Thank you again and Congratulations class of 2014


Wednesday

Yellow + Blue + Purple + Pink + Green = Orange

















Remember the color wheel in art class? SYF does too.  But when The Color Run Indianapolis comes to town, all the colors of the rainbow combine to demonstrate the Power of Orange.

On Saturday, May 17, 2014, Simon Youth Foundation was proud to once again be the local charity partner of The Color Run Indianapolis.  For the third consecutive year, our creative partnership has generated thousands of dollars to help serve at-risk youth through Simon Youth Academies and Simon Youth Scholarships. 

We appreciate all of the hours contributed by our 150+ volunteers and the support we received from the entire field of Color Runners!

Friday

Special Thanks to Some Incredible Teachers




















In celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week, SYF offers our deepest gratitude to a special group of educators – our Simon Youth Academy team.  These remarkable individuals specialize not only in teaching traditional subjects, but also in encouraging and inspiring students who were once at-risk of becoming drop-out statistics.

Homelessness, abuse, illness and other serious life circumstances can compromise a student’s ability to succeed in a traditional high school setting and often push good students to drop out of school.  Our SYF teachers reach these youth; rebuild trust that has been crushed along the way; and provide the tools and resources students need to stay in school and graduate. 

Recently, we asked Simon Youth Academy students to tell us about their educational experiences. Most of them didn’t talk about classmates or classrooms. They talked about teachers.  Here are some of their responses:

“I love the atmosphere that the teachers create at the Academy. This is the first time I have felt that my teachers cared about my feelings and my future!”
-Cecilia, ’14, Simon Youth Academy at Hickory Hollow
Nashville, TN


"At a traditional high school, I was just a number among hundreds of students, and I struggled with attendance due to health problems. But at Peabody Learning Academy, my teachers know me, believe in me and have inspired me to become an "A" student once again.”

-Nichole, ’14 Simon Youth Peabody Learning Academy at Northshore Mall
Peabody, MA


“Being able to go at your own pace is why I love being at the Academy.  The instructors are always there to help you and answer your questions."
-Jeana, ’14, Simon Youth Clark Pleasant Academy
Whiteland, IN


Our teachers know that every student is at-promise to accomplish great things when they are presented with opportunities, and at SYF, we are inspired daily by these teachers.  Our appreciation for their efforts is a year-round sentiment, but especially during this week set aside to honor their service, we thank our Simon Youth Academy teachers for their dedication to educating all students. 

Thursday

2014 Graduation Season Begins at Simon Youth Academies

Graduation season begins today, May 1, 2014, as 34 students at Simon Youth Academy at Independence Center in Independence, Missouri accept their hard-earned diplomas! 

Many of these students questioned whether they would make it to this day.  Hope had faded during their difficult journeys, or perhaps it had been lost altogether. But something about their character kept them moving forward.  And along the way, SYF hopes they have come to realize that they are so much more than the sum total of their circumstances or challenges.

These students possess true strength of character and determination, and with a diploma in hand, they are no longer “at-risk.” Now, they are “at-promise” for bright futures, because high school diplomas are more than pieces of paper or checkmarks on life’s to-do list. Diplomas represent gateways for opportunity – especially for youth who have reached graduation day only after overcoming homelessness, abuse, illness, bullying and other significant hurdles.

Without a diploma, these students would have automatically been disqualified from 90% of available jobs in the national marketplace.  With a diploma, doors open for employment and higher education, and earning potential for these graduates will be on-average $350,000 more during their lifetimes than it will be for students who drop out. 

We know that every 29 seconds, a student in this country decides to drop out of high school.  Today, in Independence, Missouri, we are proud to know 34 graduates who made a different choice – a better choice.  These students now belong to an elite group of more than 11,000 Simon Youth Academy graduates – many of them students who once believed a high school diploma was unattainable, but who have gone on to attend college and pursue successful careers.

Congratulations to the first members of our Class of 2014!