Future 5, an after-school program for low-income high school students in Stamford, CT, has graduated 500 students since it was founded in 2009. The mission is simple: to help members excel—including graduating from high school with a plan for the future—by connecting with eight staff members, 70+ volunteer coaches and other mentors, through workshops, tutoring, college/job prep and enrichment opportunities. Casual interactions like Brain Wave sessions, where founder Clif McFeely quizzes students on current events, make Future Five feel like a club and safe space.
McFeely says he is as proud of an at-risk student who graduates and enrolls at Norwalk Community College as he is of another student who gains a full ride to an Ivy league school. “Sometimes we see dramatic turnaround success, but other times a simple ‘nudge’ in the right direction might be enough to alter in some small, but important way, the trajectory of a young life.” Here’s how it works:
Commitment From Both Sides
Before becoming members, students complete an eight-week Here to There workshop, covering everything from motivation to “gremlins” (like lack of financial resources and peer pressure) and finishing with a game plan. “Once a student demonstrates [that] commitment…we will stop at nothing to help [him or her],” says Director of Operations Jane Hickok.
Luis Hernandez joined Future 5 as a Westhills High School freshman, received an associate’s degree at Norwalk Community College, and is now studying at Eastern CT State University—the first person in his family to go to college. He credits the program with helping him not only get into college but also pay for it by finding him scholarship money and a Resident Advisor job, an on-campus leadership role. “Clif took me for my interview because I had no means of transportation,” he notes. “[Another] fond memory…was when Clif told me that he thought of me as his son. To many people that wouldn’t mean much, but to a boy who never had a father it meant the world.”
A Focus on the Future
In 2016, all 39 Future Five seniors graduated from high school, and 100 percent had a plan post-graduation—25 were headed to a four-year college (at top: Ariel Mendoza signs the college wall, indicating his acceptance to Pace University), 12 were planning to attend a two-year college, one joined the Army and one had secured full-time employment. For the program, the future is as ambitious as its students. “Sustainability’ is the watchword for the year ahead,” says McFeely, adding that the last seven years have included countless highlights including “the thrill of hearing about a full college scholarship for one of our seniors, who had stayed the course after her mother’s death, her father’s institutionalization and a brush with homelessness” and “this summer’s NYC visit and the Circle Line boat tour for 45 students, most of whom had never been to Manhattan.”
How to Help: Go to futurefive.org to see how you can help with everything from tutoring to donating.