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Peer Leaders Workshops Change Lives and Inspire Students to Set Ambitious Goals

November 08, 2013

By: Vivien Carter, Executive Director, College Summit -- Florida

Peer Leaders Workshops Change Lives and Inspire Students to Set Ambitious Goals

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Nobody tackles a social issue alone, and I'm blessed to have so many strong partners. Darden is a great example, and the company's financial support is critical to ensuring that we can help the most at-risk students achieve their potential. Darden’s support allows numerous students from across the country to attend our summer Peer Leaders Workshops, where instructors teach students about the college application process and the financial aid options that are available. Students draft personal statements, experience life on a college campus and are trained to serve as peer leaders, empowering other students to pursue higher education when they return to their respective schools in the fall. Some of these students had never thought about attending college and never would have had an opportunity to go on a college campus tour.

The summer workshops are the foundation of College Summit's work, and it's hard to believe that four days have the power to change the trajectory of so many students' lives. Students often come to the workshops feeling isolated and confused, and many don't want to attend. But they leave with hope for the future, knowledge of how to pursue their dreams, and support from their schools, workshop educators, and the other newly minted Peer Leaders who were strangers just days earlier.

Darden plays a key role in making it all possible, and what I love most is that Darden doesn't just write a check and wait for a report. Employees at the company are compassionate, engaged, and genuinely care about the students, as evident by those from Darden who donate their time and get directly involved with our workshops and programs. Darden shares our belief that every child – no matter his or her background – deserves opportunities in life.

I've been working at College Summit for a long time, but there are still young people who touch a special place in my heart and make the work that I do on a daily basis incredibly fulfilling. This past summer I met Sierra, a high school senior in Miami who is homeless and lives by herself in a shelter. She has every reason to complain, but instead she views college as the key to a new life and is doing everything possible to get there by filling out multiple applications, applying for financial aid and helping her classmates do the same. Not surprisingly, she's also in the running for a prestigious Posse Scholarship. Sierra will be the first in her family to go to college, and she continues to inspire me with her unwavering commitment to working around the barriers that stand in the way of a brighter future.

It is both humbling and thrilling to watch Sierra figure out how to leverage her enthusiasm and tenacity in pursuit of her ambitious goals. Without the support from partners such as Darden, programs like College Summit's Peer Leaders Workshops wouldn't exist, and students like Sierra would be locked in a vicious cycle of poverty with little hope for the future. Instead, she -- along with hundreds of other students -- is well on her way to a life that she couldn't have imagined until now – one that's filled with hope, confidence and the inner power that comes with overcoming obstacles and dreaming big.

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