As the valedictorian of her Class of 2022 at Syracuse’s Institute of Technology (ITC) High School, Anjana Allay (pictured above left) has a lot to be proud of—and a lot of challenges that she had to successfully overcome.
Just five years earlier, the 13-year-old had a lot to adjust to. Her world changed completely when she emigrated with her family from Nepal. “I had learned English pretty well before we came here, so it wasn’t that I didn’t know the language,” she says. “But it was still tough to communicate with people.”
Her success is the result of hard work and discipline, but she had numerous other advantages, she says: her supportive family, her teachers, and the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection Youth Advocates who kept her connected and focused on her goals—even during a global pandemic.
“Anjana’s determination is very admirable. Since I’ve met her she has been in constant motion progressing towards her goals,” says Autumn Jones, Allay’s HWSC Youth Advocate (YA) at ITC. “Her achievements and accolades are well deserved, and it was my pleasure to witness it all.”
Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection YAs are based in the schools where their students attend class, but their relationship continues well after the final school bell rings for the day. The nationally recognized HWSC program is based on partnerships between the YA and their student, the student’s family and teachers, and the supportive community that’s dedicated to seeing vulnerable young people achieve their dreams.
For Allay, HWSC and Jones provided added stability that made a real difference—whether in the regular access to dedicated after-school attention at the Syracuse-based HWSC Solace Center facility, or in the creative activities that helped maintain crucial connections when COVID-19 made in-person learning impossible.
“Hillside was a lot of help for me at that time,” Allay recalls. “I felt lucky to be a part of that. Anyone who has a chance to join, should do it.”
Allay’s future plans include studying at Le Moyne University and becoming a pediatric nurse. “I love helping people,” she says.
Jones, her Hillside YA, says Allay’s “humble and kind demeanor will help make her an amazing nurse one day! I am so very proud of her.”
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Jael Gibson (above center) is a phenomenal young woman who began participating in Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection as a seventh grader at Drew Freeman Middle School in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Six years later, her hard work has definitely paid off: Gibson has been named 2022 valedictorian of Potomac High School, with an impressive cumulative 4.1 GPA!
Through middle and high school, Gibson’s HWSC Youth Advocates provided support in areas including college and career readiness; assistance with scholarships, job searches and job preparation; and connections to paid internships. In all, HWSC helped improve her test scores and gave her a vision of brighter future.
She worked particularly closely with La-Toya Jones, HWSC’s College and Career Specialist, who helped Gibson become more focused and goal-oriented, learn effective time management, and understand that determination leads to success. In 2021, Gibson was certified through the HWSC Youth Employment Training Academy and soon after was employed by Chick-fil-A.
Jones was also an active participant in Gibson’s college pursuits, even taking her on college tours and helping her identify a major. This fall, the valedictorian will begin pursuing degrees in Music Performance and Business Management / Entrepreneurship at Tennessee State University—but only after taking a trip to Barcelona, Spain, for an international learning experience.
“Youth Advocates and Hillside staff have all been very nice and kind,” Jael says. “Without them, I would have struggled a lot more. Students should want to join Hillside because they help in all areas.”
For students not ready to pursue a college degree, Hillside supports a full exploration of alternative pathways such as employment, trade schools, or the military, opening up access to multiple opportunities for exploration.
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It was just before Spring Break that Chadani Timsina (above right) learned the news: thanks to years of hard work and focus – and despite significant challenges, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic – the Syracuse senior would graduate at the top of the Corcoran High School class of 2022.
“It was kind of a euphoria when I found out,” Timsina recalls, “but after a while I had to go back to work – it kind of became an afterthought.”
Timsina shares the credit for her success with cooperative teachers, supportive family members, and the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection Youth Advocates who have been by her side since middle school.
During the past year, she says, HWSC Youth Advocate William Jenkins was a steady source of support. She recalls times when she was “drowning in work,” and her weekly check-ins with Jenkins were “a lifesaver. He was always right there to help me see how I could manage my time better, and deal with the stress. It was so helpful. I really needed that.”
When her family emigrated from Nepal 10 years ago, Timsina had to cope with learning a new language from scratch (“All I knew was ‘hello’,” she recalls) and juggling a bilingual lifestyle between school and home. “I still speak Nepali in my house. I never feel comfortable speaking in English to my parents because they don’t speak English,” she says. “But I’ve always found comfort in talking to teachers and asking for help.”
She’ll continue to work with teachers at Dartmouth College, where Timsina will study medicine – following in the footsteps of two of her three older sisters, who work in healthcare. The future physician hasn’t decided on a specialty yet; “I just know that I want to be able to become a doctor and help people.”
As she prepares for that next step, she looks back with gratitude to HWSC as part of the team that helped her achieve her goals.
“The students I know in Hillside all care about their education, and Hillside makes school better for them in different ways,” she says. “Especially if they don’t have a support system at home, the Advocates are there with advice and to listen. And that, I think, is very helpful too. It was for me.”
These HWSC success stories and many more are made possible by strong community support. Donate today to keep Hillside Strong.