In their 25 years, twin sisters Najier and Najah Johnson have done pretty much everything together. They grew up on the South and East side of Syracuse and attended Nottingham High School where, as ninth-graders, they became involved in Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection (HWSC).

Their HWSC Youth Advocates, Jeff Pettis and Aleesha Czyz, were crucial in teaching the girls life skills, helping in difficult situations in and out of school, including tutoring, advocating for them in the classroom, and ensuring the twins got what they needed to stay on a successful path. “Physically, mentally, and emotionally, our advocates always showed up for us,” said Najier.

Through HWSC’s 25-hour Youth Employment Training Academy (YETA), the twins learned time management and resume-writing, and prepared for job interviews that led to work at Wegmans, a HWSC employment partner.

As Najier and Najah entered their senior year with an eye toward college, their YAs played an even bigger role—helping them with completing FAFSA forms and applications, going on college tours, and providing mentorship support.

These hardworking and driven young women proceeded to earn Associate’s degrees in Early Childhood Education from Onondaga Community College, and Bachelor’s degrees in Social Work from Syracuse University.

Now, they’re back with HWSC—this time as Youth Advocates themselves. Najah works at Syracuse’s Oasis Academy (K-8) with students who may be having academic or social difficulties; and as a YA at Lincoln Middle School, Najier keeps an eye out for potential-rich students who may need help overcoming personal or academic challenges—just like she and her sister once did.

Witnessing the struggles their own students experience is difficult, Najah says, “because we see ourselves in them. But we’re living proof that Hillside is successful.” A double impact indeed.

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