I had intended to kick off this newsletter with stories of joy, resilience, hope and triumph over adversity that we’ve experienced with our students and each other over the last few months. I wanted you to know that a quarter century into this work, I have learned that nothing can break the bond of SQB love that our staff and students share with each other. I have celebrated the extraordinary generosity of our Board and our supporters. And I am proud and motivated about the work SQB does every day to bring greater racial and economic justice to the world.
But, the killings in Atlanta and yesterday in Boulder, have over-taken these sentiments, and I find myself once again angry and saddened by the racism, injustice and pervasive gun violence in this country. We condemn both attacks in the strongest terms. While not explicit, it seems likely that in Atlanta the ugliness and hatred was directed at the AAPI community. We will fight for the members of the AAPI community, just as we strive to do every day for the BIPOC community, and we commit to show up, listen and learn from all marginalized communities in our on-going efforts to be anti-racist.
In the wake of events this past summer, SQB established a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee comprised of staff, alumni and board members and charged with the task of recommending concrete, achievable and important steps SQB needs to take to improve as an organization. Today, this work seems more important than ever.
Very much related to DEI, SquashBusters has made miraculous progress in its ambitious goal to build our Lawrence Program a place-based home in the City of Lawrence, as part of a larger urban revitalization project with Lawrence Community Works that will include affordable housing, green space and community recreation.
The usual crowded van rides, boast-drive sessions, and chock-filled calendars of school matches, tournaments, and community service days, have been replaced by Zoom fitness classes and online tutoring, but SQB remains programmatically strong and focused. At every turn, our goal continues to be in-person interactions with our students and we’ve done this hundreds of times over this year in small group PODs and one-on-one get-togethers. We’ve played squash, hiked mountains, skied, skated and snow-tubed, gone apple picking, enjoyed painting, pottery, yoga and much more. We’ve complemented all this with virtual cooking, fitness, social justice, gaming and art and Asian culture clubs. And I promise we haven’t missed a beat supporting our 34 seniors applying to college. Acceptances are pouring in from places like Bates, Trinity, and Johns Hopkins.
I’m so pleased to share this spring newsletter with you. For those who have been most affected by the shocking events in Atlanta and Boulder, please know that we are holding you in our hearts. To all of you, thank you for believing in the power of squash and education to change the world.
Hitting the Slopes
Winter in New England shouldn’t mean the end to our outdoor excursions, so during February school vacation week staff took 26 students from SquashBusters Boston to Nashoba Valley where they had a chance to spend the afternoon snow tubing or skiing. For many students this was their first time participating in either activity and there was great enthusiasm about the chance to try something new and spend time outdoors with their friends! Eleven students and three staff members participated in beginner ski lessons when we arrived so they could learn the ropes of moving, turning, stopping, and even falling with style. While we didn’t make it all the way up the mountain, we had a great time mastering the beginner hill and are hoping to plan a return trip for those who want to progress their new skills. Click here to see a video of our efforts.
Thanks to our generous supporters we were able to fully fund this activity for students and also ensure that everyone had the boots, hats, gloves, snow pants, and other equipment that they needed to have a safe and fun day. And given the ability to effectively social distance, wear masks, and stay outdoors for this trip, we also had the confidence of families to safely hold this event despite a surge in COVID cases at the time. Our ability to be together was severely limited this winter, and this trip was a welcome break from virtual programming. We even had the generous support of a volunteer from Big City Mountaineers who continued to work with beginner skiers on their technique once the lesson portion of the day ended. Overall the trip was a resounding success and students are looking forward to their next chance to hit the slopes!
Business Leaders of Tomorrow
One of SquashBusters Lawrence’s most successful partnerships over the past few years has been with Junior Achievement of New England, a year-long entrepreneurship program that supports high school students through the process of building their own company from the ground up. While typically only a handful of SquashBusters students participate in any given year (you can read about the experience of Johsuar ’20 here), the pandemic created an opportunity for a team comprised exclusively of students from SquashBusters Lawrence. Guided by JA volunteers and staff, 10 SQB Lawrence high schoolers have spent the past several months working closely on weekly zoom meetings to create their own business. Julissa and Rosa, two participants from the SquashBusters Class of 2022, shared their experience starting their own company:
Junior Achievement of Northern New England is an organization that helps educate students about entrepreneurship. It gives us the opportunity to experience real world problems that might occur in a business. We are all interested in the business field and saw that this program was a great opportunity to further educate ourselves about the world of entrepreneurship. We are Hogar, a company that has produced comfortable hoodies from which 15% of the profits will be donated to Lazarus House, an organization in Lawrence that helps families struggling with food insecurity, poverty, and homelessness.
We would greatly appreciate it if you could support our cause, either through the purchase of one of our hoodies on our website here or by spreading the word about Hogar. We only have six weeks and a limited amount of supplies, but with your support our company can grow and evolve, have more products to sell, and give back an even greater portion of the proceeds to our community. Help us with our mission, be a part of the Hogar family, and let’s make home where the heart is through our hoodies.
Calling All Chefs
On January 4th SquashBusters made the difficult decision to return to primarily virtual programming for six weeks due to a surge in COVID cases, but our ever-resourceful staff quickly pivoted and created meaningful virtual club opportunities to keep the students busy and teach them about different topics. Students joined a club fair through Zoom, where they signed up for clubs that they were interested in. They learned how to sketch and paint with the Art Club (view a virtual art show here) and satisfied their need for competition in the Gaming Club. In the Asian Culture Club they watched anime and made ramen from scratch and the Social Justice Club tackled difficult conversations and concluded with a great debate on capitalism vs. socialism.
Finally, we had wildly popular Cooking Club, where we taught the students how to cook meals and even had the students teach the staff. Even though everyone started with different experiences (some had never used a stove or a knife before), by the end, all the students were cooking along and having great fun and great meals. Students made Chicken Alfredo and Broccoli Pasta which they were able to share with their families, and a new world of spices was introduced to many people. One student, Isabel, taught us all to make a family favorite, pastelitos. She even led a class for our donors and players in our annul fundraiser, the Rumble, where she taught everyone how to cook them just like her grandmother does. The recipe is below if you want to give it a try!
- Vegetable oil
- Olive oil
- Goya Discos Grande -found in freezer section (move from the freezer to the fridge a few hours before you start cooking)
- 1 Pound of 80/20 ground beef
- ½ onion (optional)
- ½ green or red pepper (optional)
- 2 Sazon Season packets
- Goya Adobo Seasoning
- Black Pepper
- 2 Frying/saute pans
- Chop half of the onions and half of the green or red peppers into dice-sized pieces and set aside.
- Add two tablespoons of olive oil to a pan on medium heat and warm it up.
- Once olive oil is ready, add the ground beef to the pan and start to sauté.
- As beef is cooking, add the onions and peppers to the pan. Add two Sazon packets, salt, black pepper and adobo to taste.
- Remove the ground beef from the heat
- Fill Goya discs with ground beef mixture – add two spoon fills of ground beef in the center of the disc, fold the dough over to create a half circle and use a fork to seal the dough. Make sure the dough is closed tightly so the filling doesn’t seep out when you fry them.
- Add ¾ cup of vegetable oil to a sauté/frying pan on medium heat.
- Once the oil is hot, add the pastelitos to the pan, flip after a minute and fry until golden brown.
- Have a plate ready with napkins to take off the extra oil.
Post-Secondary Stop-Outs (not Drop-Outs)
Myth: Students stop-out because of money or low GPAs.
Reality: Life balance and physical/mental health account for 55% of stop-outs.
The reasons for leaving post-secondary education and for returning are deeply personal and individual. This fact creates a great opportunity for a retention strategy- access to a person who can be an ongoing relational support system – or in SQB terms, our incredible post-secondary team. Corey, Mike, and Sally worked tirelessly with 9 students who had stopped-out this fall, getting them all re-enrolled for the spring semester. Five of them are returning full-time to their 4-year institutions, two to trade school, and two to a two-year program, one enrolling for the first time. So despite a pause in their education, all are hopefully on their way to success and self-sufficiency.
It’s Derby Season
More than 100 supporters, students, staff and professional squash players are saddling up to raise money for SQB and participate in our first ever virtual Derby. Starting on April 16 and lasting until May 1, players will complete challenges to earn points for their team. The harder the challenge, the more points you earn. And since no squash skills are requited this year, many players are choosing to make it a family affair. Please visit the website to support your favorite players and follow along on Facebook and Instagram to see some spirited competition.