By Charles Nessralla
I have been volunteering with the Big Brother program of Greater Boston for the past 4 years. I was lucky enough to be matched with an amazing family from the Lenox projects in Boston's South End. Since meeting them I have watched each child work tirelessly to overcome a system seemingly designed to keep them from achieving. Manuel (Manny) Peguero is the oldest child and will be starting High School next year. He moved here from the Dominican Republic 5 years ago without being able to speak a word of English.
I can only imagine how difficult it must be to start school in a new country without speaking the native language, but Manny did just that. Not only did he eventually manage to fit in to this new culture, but he quickly moved to the top of his class. Success, however, did not come easy to him. While most of the other neighborhood children were outside playing, Manny was in his bedroom working more diligently on his schoolwork than any kid I have ever met. It was a constant uphill battle, but one that Manny was determined to win. After almost two years of hard work and perseverance, Manny made high honors. Since that report card two years ago I have never seen anything less than an “A” come home from school with him.
Manny then set his eyes on sports. He joined the Baseball and Basketball teams at his elementary school as well as several inner-city leagues in Boston. With a dedication I have only seen matched by Manny’s attention to his schoolwork, he began practicing daily at both his sports. This year Manny played with the youth all-star basketball team and went on to be named MVP after they won the championship. At the end of this month Manny will travel to New York to play for the all-star baseball team from Boston at Yankee Stadium. In as long as I have known him, there has really been nothing that he set his mind to that he was unable to accomplish.
You might think that with straight “A’s” and amazing athletic ability, Manny would develop a cocky, better-than personality. This could not be further from the truth. At a meeting with his guidance counselor a few months ago, she told me he still walks his little sister back and forth to her classes so she doesn’t have to carry her books. This is just one example of the type of kid Manny is. At his school field trip to 6-flags, he volunteered to take his special needs classmates on the rides; if we go out to eat he always saves half of his meal to bring home to his family. There is never a time where Manny puts his own interests before someone else’s. His teachers and school administrators can never say enough good things about Manny. His guidance counselor told me "Alex is not college material, he is Grad school material. This kid has the potential to be someone!"
Manny wants nothing more than to attend college and help support his family when he gets older so he has worked exceptionally hard at applying to private high schools. Last month we found out all his hard work had finally paid off. He was accepted to one of the top private high schools in the state and I could not have been happier to know he would not end up falling through the cracks in the Boston Public School System, where 70% of high school graduates never attain a college degree. Then suddenly all of the handwork Manny had put in since coming to this country came to a halt. He has finally reached a barrier that his dedication and perseverance cannot overcome. The school he was accepted too has reached a limit on the amount of financial aid they can offer and Manny’s family has no way to raise the 17,000 dollars needed to pay his tuition.
I decided to start a small fundraising campaign on indiegogo.com, not expecting too much out of it. To my surprise we raised almost $3,000 in the first 3 days. When I started reading the comments on the website I realized it was not the people I emailed that were making the donations but the members of Manny’s community. The local Dominican churches and organizations all came together to help this young man achieve his goals. It was heart wrenching to see so many people who have never met this kid donate their money to ensure his future! I have a respect for the Dominican community I cannot say I have for any other culture. How they all came together to help this boy is nothing short of a miracle! We still have a substantial amount of money to raise before we can begin celebrating, but judging by what I have seen from this community in recent days, I have no doubt we will reach our goal and give this amazing young man the opportunity he deserves.
For more information on how you can help Manny go to school, please visit http://www.indiegogo.com/HelpManny