Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Cycle Breakers

Let me properly introduce myself; 

My name is Jesus Benitez. I am in my second semester at LaGuardia Community College and my major is Philosophy. I am a single father to my amazing son, Mason.

-I am an Ambassador and mentor for the CUNY Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia

-I am an Ambassador for the College Discovery Program in LaGuardia

-I am a Spanish Heritage Scholar for the LaGuardia LUCE program

-I am also one of the Becari@s Scholarship Recipients and Head Organizer for the Becari@s within The Jaime Lucero Mexican Studies Institute At CUNY

 I want to talk about an amazing program that helped me begin to change my life for the better. That program is called the CUNY Fatherhood Academy, which aims to strengthen fathers and families by promoting responsible fatherhood and economic stability through education and employment for 18-24 year-olds. The CUNY Fatherhood Academy helps to prepare students to obtain their High School Equivalency   Diploma or enroll in college. However, in order for you to know how much the CUNY fatherhood impacted my life, you must know some of my history before I entered the program.

I was born and raised in the Bronx. Growing up in my neighborhood I did not hear people talking about college much nor did I have an example to follow. My family has always teetered on the edge of poverty since arriving in this country from Mexico. I was raised by my mother, a single parent who had no choice but to work two jobs to support our family. When my mother was at work, as the oldest of four, I helped take care of the needs of my brothers and sisters and provide guidance as best as I could, however I was really just a kid myself.  Eventually, at the age of 13, in order to make my mom’s life a little easier, I got a job working as a cashier. Because I did not like school and I was making money to support myself and my family, I was being lured away from education.

 At the age of 17, I became a father, so I dropped out of school to support my family full-time. When my son was a year and a half old, his mother left and I became a single parent. I worked intensively and even had 7 part time jobs at one point. Because I lacked a father figure in my own life, I know that it’s important for me to be a role model for my son. Now, I am the only person to provide guidance to my son. This responsibility brought us closer together, showing me how much we need one another and helping me learn some important things about myself. Watching him grow and develop made me realize that I needed to change my life so that I could provide more options for him. So I knew that I needed to go back to school and get a higher education.

 I was introduced to the CUNY Fatherhood Academy and decided to give them a try. Because I was a single father, I did not believe I was able to attend College. My mindset was only to provide my son with what he needed and help him grow in life.  In other words, to have a career I dreamed of was over for me. I slowly began to trust Raheem Brooks and David Speal, the program coordinators, who were the ones to give me the push I needed not only to dream of eventually getting 2 PhDs in Philosophy and Public affairs and double minoring in Latino studies and Spanish but to set me on a path with tools to make that possible.

 I analyzed my progress in the Academy and realized how they inspired me to continue my education by going to college. Being able to help me realize that my path towards success was not over; was incredible.  At that moment I decided to get more involved with my community, help the CUNY Fatherhood Academy expand throughout the City and improve myself academically by going to college. One of my mentors, Raheem, sent me a link and told me to apply for the CUNY Becas Scholarship. My other mentor David, helped me revise my essays and apply for the scholarship These are the kind of people they are, They always help everyone that participates in the Academy. Because of them, I am a Becario and I met a group of leaders that I now consider my family and we are fighting to change the world.

 We have fathers that attend the CUNY Fatherhood Academy that decided to change their own destiny. We call ourselves the Cycle breakers because we have taken one of the biggest first steps to get out of our comfort zone and go back to school. It’s hard because like me I had a 6 year gap away from school and adapting back into the school environment wasn't easy. I was ready to drop out but I was convinced to stay from one of the fathers in my class. These are the kind of fathers that attend the program, the ones that look out for each other.

Now, let me share you the program statistics:

We had 173 students enrolled in the CUNY Fatherhood Academy

76 students were placed in jobs

56 out of 103 students earned their High School Equivalency Diploma

35 students obtained internships

21 students have enrolled into college

 Unfortunately, we are no longer going to be able to increase our statistics because the CUNY Fatherhood Academy was not refunded. It is hard to imagine the program that helped change my life to no longer be available for young fathers. Even though we are not fully funded, we are still focusing on helping the remaining fathers pass their High School Equivalency Exams, gain employment or prepare them for college. It’s a program like the CUNY Fatherhood Academy that truly makes a difference within the community because no matter what happens, they never give up on you. We fight for the fathers that truly want to become Cycle breakers. They deserve the same opportunity I had and I hope we will be able to continue to provide that.