Video: Learning to S.O.A.R.
By Kevin Coughlin
Jamir Brown entered 5th grade as a shy young man whose primary passion was running the football for the Wildcats. But he’ll enter the Frelinghuysen Middle School this fall with a new outlook, thanks to a mentoring program called S.O.A.R.
“I learned to be responsible and respectful. Tutors taught me arithmetic and writing and reading, and to help each other out and believe in yourself,” Jamir said Thursday, at a ceremony honoring 30 students and their mentors.
S.O.A.R. is short for Student Outreach and Academic Reinforcement.
Established by Morristown’s nonprofit Spring Street Community Development Center, the program provides tutoring and encouragement for disadvantaged 5th graders.
Partners include the Morris School District, the College of St. Elizabeth, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, Prevention is Key and Bethel A.M.E. Church of Morristown.
The pupils work with students and instructors from CSE and Drew University.
Mackey Pendergrast, superintendent of the Morris School District, said he was “incredibly grateful” to S.O.A.R founders Sidney Williams Jr., pastor of Bethel A.M.E., and his wife, Teresa Williams, who runs the program.
Pendergrast told parents in the audience at the CSE in Madison that the Morris School District, like S.O.A.R., is “committed to move mountains for your children [and] do whatever it takes to help your children succeed.”
The Williams couple launched S.O.A.R in 2012 at the Spring Street C.D.C. Fifth-graders come there twice a week after school, throughout the school year.
Twice a month, they also visit with employees at Wyndham Worldwide in Parsippany, where they learn about things like goal-setting and recycling from employee-mentors, said Brian Klecatsky, a senior manager for the hotel company.
One of those mentors, Wyndham’s Carolina Costa, told the kids that hard work and smart choices made all the difference for her when she emigrated from Colombia as a teenager, without her parents, and without a grasp of English.
She got financial help from Montclair State University, landed an entry level job at Wyndham…and rose to manage many of the people she once worked for.
“Push yourself, because nobody else is going to push you.
It has to come from inside,” said Costa, who delivered her remarks in English and Spanish.
“Don’t ever be afraid to dream too big. Nothing is impossible if you believe in yourself.”
A new summer session will include 6th- , 7th- and 8th graders who are alumni of S.O.A.R. Pastor Williams said the Spring Street C.D.C. must raise about $60,000 annually to keep S.O.A.R. aloft.
The program includes dinners at which parents join their 5th graders for presentations on a variety of topics, said Teresa Williams.
“We believe families have to be strong for kids to be strong,” she said.
One of the unexpected developments of the program, Sidney Williams said, is strong bonds between African American and Latino parents.
“We create a community among the families,” the pastor said. In S.O.A.R.’s early days, he had to transport some children to the program. “Now, the families get each other here.”
Fifth-graders Benny Lozano and Matthew Smith became fast friends at S.O.A.R., where they enjoy playing computer games together. Benny said the after-school sessions also help him get his homework out of the way. “I learned to double-check my work,” he said.
Jamir Brown’s dad, Trevor Brown, said his son now likes his homework, and wants to learn. S.O.A.R.’s encouragement has helped the boy shed some of his timidness in the classroom, the dad said.
“This makes him realize that sports and education go hand in hand. In this world, you can’t have one without the other,” said the Morristown High School graduate (’96), who played varsity basketball.
Perhaps the best testimonial came from Jamir’s kid brother Jasiah. The second-grader can’t wait for his turn to S.O.A.R.
“It looks fun,” Jasiah said.