When she first met Shantavia Newton, Najwa Dennis was an experienced Youth Advocate with Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection (HWSC) at Clary Middle School and Corcoran High School in Syracuse.

Shantavia was finding the transition to Grade 10 difficult: she had recently lost her mother and was adrift both personally and academically. “She looked to me to be there for her along with some of her close family members that provided support,” Dennis recalls. “I encouraged, pushed, praised, and held her accountable for her future. She’s a prime example of what a Hillside Work-Scholarship student can become with hard work.”

Dennis advocated on behalf of Shantavia with teachers, counselors, and her father—while also helping Shantavia understand importance of advocating for herself. As a college graduate role model, the YA led by example, demonstrating that persistence pays off and helping Shantavia envision her own successful future.

“Najwa ensured that I had nothing to worry about,” said Shantavia. “She stepped right in so I didn’t feel such a void.”

Dennis notes how crucial it is for students to know that someone is there for them, “showing you care, you’re consistent, and that you’re ‘cool’ but disciplined.”

Even after graduation, Shantavia remained close with her YA mentor. While a student at Onondaga Community College, she looked to Dennis for help with resume writing, job applications, and interview preparation, all culminating in Shantavia landing a job as she continued her studies.

After graduating from OCC, Shantavia returned to Corcoran High School—as an HWSC Youth Advocate. “I wanted to give back to where I originated, to kids in the same place as I was.” She’d meet students walking in the hall, join them for brunch or lunch in the cafeteria, and do home visits. “These kids really need somebody advocating for them. They need that extra push in the schools and behind the scenes.”

Down the road, one can hope that the legacy of Dennis’ mentorship lives on through another generation of Youth Advocates, thanks to Shantavia’s work through Hillside Work Scholarship Connection.

HWSC and other Hillside programs require philanthropic support to make an impact in the lives of more students and families. Please support our mission—give to Hillside today.

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