The Trip of a Lifetime: SquashBusters Students Embark on Third Annual Urban Squash Citizenship Tour
SquashBusters’ strong partnership with the National Urban Squash and Education Association (NUSEA) allows us to connect our students to incredible opportunities, from squash squads to internships to academic programs, that expand their horizons. One such opportunity is the Citizenship Tour, which gives select urban squash students the chance to travel the country and meet influential leaders in the world of government, media and civic life.
Antar Jimenez, SquashBusters Lawrence ’18, was one of the lucky students chosen for this experience this past summer. With 23 other students from 11 different programs, Antar spent eight days travelling up and down the East Coast, stopping in New York City, Philadelphia and Washington D.C., on the third annual Citizenship Tour.
Along the way, students met with some famous faces and big names, including Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, Senator Al Franken (MN), Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (NY), and NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt. “Meeting the senators and Supreme Court Justice Kagan was great,” said Antar. “The tour helped give me greater appreciation for their jobs and the hard work they put in. You can really see how they seek to make a beneficial change in their environment and make a difference in the lives of others.”
The group also visited Independence Hall and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, toured NBC Studios, The New York Times Building, the U.S. Capitol and The White House, and attended a professional soccer game to watch the Philadelphia Union battle it out against DC United.
Of course, there was plenty of squash as well – the week kicked off with a hit-around at StreetSquash Harlem, and students got to hear about the history of urban squash from StreetSquash Executive Director George Polsky and NUSEA Executive Director Tim Wyant. Two of the U.S. Senators, Senator Franken and Senator Gillibrand, are fellow players. Sen. Gillibrand even jumped on court with students on the last day of the tour.
Antar was not the only SquashBusters representative in attendance. Yamiles Urena, SquashBusters ’14, attended as an alumna and chaperone. Both Antar and Yamiles had a great time travelling and bonding with fellow members of the urban squash family. “We didn’t expect that after just a week, we would have gotten so close,” said Antar. “We didn’t want the week to end. I’m so excited to see everyone at the next NUSEA tournament.”
Nearly sixty of the program’s biggest stakeholders showed their incredible commitment to SquashBusters when they braved early morning traffic and chilly temperatures for the first ever Breakfast with Champions on Thursday, October 27th. Board members, volunteers, school partners and major donors put their heads together over omelets and pastries by the SQB squash courts at Northeastern University to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities currently facing the organization.
The morning kicked off with welcome remarks by SQB alum and Board member Jose Rivera, followed by a program update by Boston Program Director Myra Sack and Lawrence Executive Director Dora Lubin. Myra and Dora gave a recap of the 2015-2016 program year, sprinkling in a few standout stories of student success, before laying out what’s in store for both programs in 2016-2017.
After guests learned about some of SQB’s successes and challenges over the past 12 months, Board member Meg Campbell put them to work, challenging each person in the room to put on his or her “consultant hat” and join the others at their tables in brainstorming solutions for specific issues facing SquashBusters this year. Topics included identifying strategies for engaging with the corporate community in Boston, sourcing leaders and partners for the program’s expansion to Providence, and telling our story effectively to supporters. Each group quickly rose to the occasion, filling up their designated poster boards with thoughtful ideas on how to strengthen SQB and its network. Once time was up, Board member Juma Crawford facilitated a group share-out, and each table revealed its best ideas for tackling its specific challenge.
To cap off the inspirational morning, Matt Light, former New England Patriots offensive lineman and founder of the Light Foundation, spoke to the crowd about the importance of programs like SQB. Serving youth through his own organization, Matt is no stranger to the work SQB does each day and the vital role of all of the people behind the program. “All of you in this room are what make all of this possible,” he said.
With full bellies and plenty of motivation, each person in the room left the Breakfast with Champions with new energy, inspired to continue with the important work that changes kids lives for the better. We can’t wait to do it again next year!
The 2016-2017 year is off to a great start at SquashBusters.
This fall, we welcomed more than 100 students who tried out for official spots on the SquashBusters Boston and Lawrence teams. In Boston, 35 seventh-graders were ultimately selected for the Boston 2022 team and 17 sixth-graders made the final Lawrence 2023 team. In addition, four new eighth-graders joined the Boston program and five new students – one in seventh grade, two in eighth and two in ninth grade – became part of the SQB Lawrence community. As always, students were selected based on their commitment and enthusiasm for the opportunity, not on their athletic or academic ability. We are so excited to welcome the new members of the SQB family!
Thanks to our partner schools, Codman Academy Charter Public School, John D. OBryant School of Math and Science, Joseph Lee K-8 School, Rafael Hernandez School, and Timilty Middle School in Boston, as well as Arlington Middle School and Emily G. Wetherbee School in Lawrence, we are able to bring the sport of squash and the myriad of opportunities that come with it to the youth of both cities.
This year, SquashBusters will serve more than 300 middle school, high school and college students – more than ever before.
Meanwhile, our more established SquashBusters students are working hard, both on court and off. In Boston, eighth-graders have been meeting with their individual tutors twice per week to build their math and literacy skills, thanks to our partnership with Tutors for All. All ninth and tenth-graders have been working on academics as well, mixing in some career-readiness activities like resume-writing and even taking a trip to TripAdvisor to check out all the different aspects of a corporate environment. Our high school juniors have started SAT prep and taken their first practice test both in Boston and in Lawrence, where for the first time, students are going through the college application process.
Finally, our seventeen seniors are taking some of the most important steps in their SquashBusters careers. This summer, our rising seniors were matched with individual college mentors to begin work on their essays and applications. With the support of their mentors and SQB staff, they’re currently hard at work finalizing their list of schools and editing their essays. In addition, this year, the FAFSA opened up early, so students have begun the financial aid process also with help from SQB mentors and staff. It’s hard work now, but it will certainly pay off in the spring once the acceptance letters starting rolling in. We can’t wait to see where they’ll be this time next year!
On the squash court, SquashBusters students have already competed in eleven matches and tournaments since the year began, including the Howe Cup, Noble & Greenough Bronze, St. Lukes Silver and NUSEA Northeast Regionals. Students have also had opportunities to train with the Harvard University and Wellesley College squash teams.
We’re so proud of all that our students have accomplished so far this year, and we are so excited to see what 2017 has to bring! To keep up with everything going on at SquashBusters as it happens, be sure to like SQB and SQB Lawrence on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter!
One of the best parts about serving young people is watching them grow into kind, successful, well-rounded adults. With more than two decades of programming under our belt, SquashBusters now has a broad network of alumni, and nothing makes us happier than welcoming some of them back to SQB as staff members. This year, seven SquashBusters alumni are employed in both full- and part-time positions. As squash coaches, academic coordinators, alumni and college success managers, finance administrators, and support staff, SQB alumni fill roles in every corner of the organization.
Day in and day out, Mikhail Darlington, Vicky Flamenco, Rodney Galvao, Alejandra Madrid, Deanna Pettway, Darryl Soto, and Ti Tran move the needle for the 300 SquashBusters students in Boston, Lawrence, and in college.
As program staff, Mikhail, Vicky, Rodney, Ale, Darryl and Deanna coach, teach, mentor, and support kids on their journeys through middle school, high school, and beyond, bringing along with them the unique perspective of having once been in the very same shoes as our current students. On the finance side, Ti helps the organization run smoothly and ensures that we will be around for many more students in the future.
After graduating from Temple University in 2011, Mikhail, SquashBusters ’07, took a corporate job with a property management company. Although successful at work, he felt that something was missing – his heart was with urban squash and youth development. In 2015, Mikhail returned to SquashBusters as our College Access and Success Manager, working with our high school students and alumni as they make their way to and through college. “I know from personal experience how hard it is as a student of color to navigate high school and college. I want to share my own insight and experiences with current students who are dealing with some of those same struggles,” he says.
Deanna, SquashBusters ’14, joined Mikhail’s College and Alumni Success team this fall. Currently enrolled at Northeastern University, Deanna has always stayed close to the program. She values having ties to a program like SquashBusters, whose staff still supports and cares about her, and now she provides that same concern and encouragement for SQB’s 71 college students across the country. Her advice to current students? “Don’t take for granted all the opportunities the program provides,” she offers. “In the future, every opportunity you’ve had here will open doors and prove beneficial.”
Along with Mikhail and Deanna, Vicky, Rodney, Ale, Darryl, and Ti contribute to the success of our program in ways that no one else can. Having grown up with this program, they know firsthand the impact SquashBusters can have on a young person’s life. We are so grateful that they’ve chosen to return to SQB and make a difference for our current students. As alumni continue to graduate each year, we look forward to welcoming many more of them to the staff someday!