When opportunity meets perseverance

Spring is a time of year filled with happy events -- first Communions, confirmations, and graduations -- each celebrating an important moment in a family's life. At Catholic Charities, we have the privilege of being part of many important graduation moments, as students of all ages celebrate their academic achievements.

Across Catholic Charities this June, students will be awarded GED certificates and encouraged to continue their educations, while others will earn certificates from our Office Works program and be well prepared for good-paying, full-time jobs. Students in our nursing assistant/home health aide training programs will receive their certificates, prepared to pass their licensing exam, and begin their careers in health care.

Our youngest students, those enrolled in our Early Educations and Care programs, are "moving up" from toddler classrooms as they become proud preschoolers, while our kindergarteners are being promoted, fully prepared for the challenges of first grade learning.

At our Catholic Charities Teen Center at St. Peter's, located in the Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood of Dorchester, all 24 of our high school seniors are preparing for their next adventures. Twenty-one of the students will head to college this fall, two are beginning electrician apprenticeships, while one student has chosen a military career and is soon heading off to the Navy.

One of our college-bound students is Elisa, a bright, petite, vivacious young woman who arrived in the United States from Cape Verde with her family just four years ago. Like so many other young people in the neighborhood, one of Elisa's first stops following her arrival in Dorchester was the Teen Center.

When we first met Elisa, she was an English language learner, enrolled at the Jeremiah Burke High School. A dedicated and determined student, Elisa was happy to have the additional academic support that the Teen Center provides as she worked to be the best student she could be. In addition, Elisa became part of the Teen Center team, working as a counselor-in-training over the past three years. Elisa is also a member of the Bowdoin-Geneva Youth Council, which brings together youth representatives from different community organizations to create a unified voice for neighborhood youth.

Happily, all of Elisa's hard work and dedication has paid off -- she is the valedictorian of the Burke High School Class of 2013! Elisa was also recently recognized as one of Boston's top 35 high school students. With a full scholarship in hand, Elisa will head off to Bridgewater State University this fall!

At Bridgewater, Elisa will join Manuel, another Teen Center student, who has just completed his freshman year, majoring in sociology and criminal justice. Like Elisa, Manuel arrived in the United States with his family, speaking no English. His first several months living in Dorchester were difficult, leaving Manuel feeling a bit lost and "getting into trouble a lot." He too, found the Teen Center, and credits the staff there with helping him have confidence in his own abilities saying: "I realized I could make something of my life if I worked hard, studied and made good choices."

"My dream was to go to college and give back to the community; I want to show younger kids what they can become," explained Manuel, who will have the chance to be a role model to Dorchester teens again this summer when he returns to the Teen Center as a counselor!

A helping hand from Catholic Charities really does make a difference for students of all ages and backgrounds in so many of our programs. We invite you to take the opportunity to join us at one of our graduation ceremonies and see for yourself what can be accomplished when opportunity is accompanied by hard work and perseverance. We could not be more proud of students like Manuel and Elisa who show us that no obstacle can prevent a person from achieving their dreams.

Debbie Rambo, LICSW, is the president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston (www.ccab.org).