Special to South Florida Times
CORAL GABLES — The end was bittersweet for Sacha Forgenie, 23, when she had to say goodbye to the ninth-graders at Miami Northwestern High School in Miami’s Liberty City community.
The New York native came south, after graduating from Syracuse University, to join City Year. May 31 was exciting but also “a little bittersweet” for Forgenie as she graduated from the volunteer program.
“I’m sad to leave my kids because I won’t be the first person around to say ‘Hello’ in the morning, ‘I love you’ when they need it or ‘Goodbye’ at the end of school. But I’m so happy about both their accomplishments and mine.”
Forgenie was among 130 members of the 2012 class of City Year Miami who spent 10 months and at least 1,700 hours each as mentors and tutors to some of Miami-Dade County's most underserved children and youth during the week and performing service projects on weekends.
This is the fourth and largest group of young leaders from around the country to complete the program, which is a component of the Americorps youth volunteer service. They graduated during a ceremony in the University of Miami’s Storer Auditorium in Coral Gables, wearing the program’s signature red jacket.
Inspired by her mother, who has been a teacher for 25 years, Forgenie will return to Syracuse to pursue a master’s degree in information management. She said she also will continue to fight for the educational rights of students.
“A quote I always take with me is, ‘Education is a right and not a privilege.’ There are a lot of kids around the world, and definitely in the United States, that are not getting the education they deserve,” Forgenie said. “This amazing experience with City Year has helped me realize the undying need for more people like myself and my fellow corps members to help affect change in education.”
Forgenie’s sentiment was echoed by her classmates.
“I joined City Year because I had a very good education and I feel that everyone deserves to have a quality education,” said Kerry Vaccaro, 23, of Elizabeth, N.J., who volunteered alongside Forgenie at Northwestern High.
“It is a great organization that has taught me a lot along the way. I actually feel the kids taught me a lot more than I taught them,” Vaccaro said.
Jerry Calvert, 25, worked with seventh-graders at Charles R. Drew Middle School, also in Liberty City. He won a Corps Member of the Year award.
The Indianapolis, Ind., native, like Forgenie, came to Miami because of City Year. Coming from a similar background as his students helped him relate to them, he said.
“In Indianapolis, the educational system is much like Miami’s, so some of the same struggles my students went through I went through,” Calvert said. “The City Year experience is one that more males should get involved in because I realized this year just how powerfully I can affect a child’s life. If that can be done in just 10 months, just imagine a whole lifetime of this.”
Calvert will remain with the program another year to serve as a team leader. He hopes he can also continue to work with Drew Middle students.
The City Year Miami members served at the following schools: Pine Villa Elementary; Drew and Miami Edison Middle: Booker T. Washington, Miami Carol City, Miami Central, Miami Edison, Homestead, Miami Jackson, Miami Norland, North Miami, Northwestern and Southridge high schools.
Vivianne Bohorques, City Year Miami’s managing director of program and service, said the program performed higher than any other in the 20-city national network by serving more than 3,000 students, of whom 95 percent are on track to pass language arts tests, with an average 6 percent increase in the number of students who passed the FCAT at the high schools they served.
“The work that we do takes personal sacrifice. The incredible thing and what I love the most about City Year is its reciprocal impact,” Bohorques said. “The corps members are making an impact on the students they serve but the students are also making a tremendous impact on the corps members and changing their lives.”
City Year Miami has experienced steady growth since it was launched in 2008. Saif Ishoof, the executive director was pleased with the progress.
“As a native of Miami, I’m unbelievably proud to see 130 young people celebrating service in this community and completing over 250,000 hours of service,” Ishoof said. “I’m excited for the possibilities this affords these young people in their careers and am most excited for what this means in the city of Miami.
“This shows that we are a city that believes young people can play a role in transforming underperforming schools and supporting the lives and the journeys of students here.”
Photo: Sacha Forgenie