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BronxWorks CAFE Program Helps Students Explore Future Education Opportunities

BronxWorks CAFE students at a campus tour at Alfred University in Alfred, NY.

As a Bronx-based organization, a key part of the BronxWorks mission is to provide services that will help break the cycle of poverty within our communities. We offer an array of programs to support the children and youth of the Bronx starting at preschool and running all the way through high school, post-high school and young adulthood. BronxWorks is invested in every stage of our participants’ education and has recently expanded our post-high school and college preparation programming in the Center for Achieving Future Education (CAFE).

BronxWorks CAFE is a program that has helped young people and their families for nearly twenty years with a critical life stage: the transition from high school and/or HSE completion to college. CAFE helps students explore higher education and post-high school opportunities and prepare for their college career. The program provides one-on-one college counseling, SAT prep classes, assistance with college and trade school applications, assistance navigating financial aid and scholarships, college tours and fairs, a variety of workshops covering all aspects of the college application and transition process, and college retention and support services. CAFE works with students throughout the Bronx and other boroughs and shares strong partnerships with Bronx area high schools including Frederick Douglass Academy III, Theatre Arts Production Company School (TAPCo), Validus Preparatory Academy, and Bronx School for Law, Government & Justice (LGJ).

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, CAFE, much like other BronxWorks programs, shifted to virtual programming. Now as the Bronx recovers, CAFE has doubled-down on college and post-high school education opportunities as a way to make generational impact for the students and families of the program. CAFE expanded its programming to include a focus on college retention. Funded through the Robin Hood Foundation, CAFE added three College Success Advisors to provide ongoing engagement and support to participants during their college journeys. Now the BronxWorks CAFE team has a total of eight staff working with over 200 students each year throughout their college exploration, application, transition, and matriculation phases.

I feel extremely proud of the program and the additions we’ve made. A lot of our staff have their own college stories or are the first in their families to attend college and that’s why they are passionate about the work we do.”

-Angela Rodriguez de Jesus,
Program Coordinator, CAFE

CAFE also launched its Summer Bridge program in July 2022, working to prepare first-time college-bound students ages 17-24 with the skills required to be a successful student in college. The program assigns each participant with a designated College Success Advisor that guides them before and during their transition to college, addressing any challenges including academics, financial aid, and navigating campus resources and on-campus living. Students receive one-on-one retention assistance and life skill workshops and, after completing the coursework, a stipend for book and transportation.

BronxWorks CAFE students from Theatre Arts Production Company School show off their college tees.

Our students are awesome and more motivated than ever. They want to hear about all of their opportunities. They are referring their friends to CAFE. They’re attending college tours and trips again. As a group, we held a graduation ceremony celebrating the seniors that are attending college in the coming fall semester.”

All of that work has already made a difference for the participants of CAFE. From the Fall 2021 cohort, 88 of the 120 students remained enrolled for a second year of college. And the recent graduating cohort for Fall 2022 includes acceptances and enrollments to Boston University; Brandeis University; Columbia; Cornell; Fordham; Ithaca College; St. Joseph’s College; Yale; several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HCBUs) including Howard University, Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Lincoln University; as well as the full suite of CUNY and SUNY schools.

We spoke with two recent graduating participants about their college journey and how the CAFE program helped them make decisions and prepare for it.

Emely M. Is Attending Columbia University

Emely M. is attending Columbia University

Emely’s family came to the United States from Mexico when she was six years old and she has lived in the South Bronx ever since. She and her younger sister were raised in a single-parent household by her mother. Emely attended Bronx LGJ High School where she connected with the BronxWorks CAFE Program in the tenth grade.

I always knew I wanted to go to college but I didn’t know where to start or look. CAFE helped me engage with my peer mentors and showed me what college would be like.”

BronxWorks CAFE mentors came to Emely’s class twice a month to present about college opportunities, answer student questions, and distribute resources and information. As she progressed through high school, Emely worked with CAFE staff to set her college goals and ultimately applied to 19 colleges, including CUNY and SUNY schools, University of Rochester, Hamilton College, and Columbia University. Emely was accepted by a number of her schools and decided to enroll at Columbia University for the Fall 2022 semester.

“My first true acceptance was to Hamilton College,” she says. “I got really excited and really emotional. That’s when it set in that I was about to go away. It will be the first time moving out of my mom’s house.”

Emely has spent the past summer in Columbia University’s Academy Success Program, a three-week program designed to help first-time college-bound students adjust to the academic rigor and on-campus lifestyle. She is planning to study biochemistry with a pre-health concentration and to one day apply to dentistry school to become an orthodontist.

My motivation is to help my family get out of poverty and to break the life cycle that my parents lived through. Coming here from Mexico has shown me the opportunities I have here and the support that I’ve received from CAFE and other BronxWorks programs to succeed. I hope that other students can see that as well. Like my sister, she is seeing how if I can do it she can do it too, and she’s really putting her foot in.”

Jared M. Is Attending Alfred University

Jared (left above) was born and raised in the Kingsbridge area of the Bronx. He spent much of his childhood at the St. James Recreation Center and as he got older he also worked there as a mentor, helping the younger kids with their homework and connecting with them through shared experiences. “My parents separated when I was 13 or 14,” Jared says, “I wasn’t prepared for that and it set me back mentally, but I was also able to use that experience to connect with other kids going through the same thing.” For all of his community service, Jared received a Rising Star Award from the Bronx Parks Department. At home, it’s largely the same way. He is the middle child of six siblings and excels in his role of holding the family together.

Jared attended BronxWorks afterschool programs when he was in middle school, and then reconnected with BronxWorks and the CAFE program while he was at the Theatre Arts Production Company High School (TAPCo).

CAFE helped me out a lot. Angela and Elsie were my College Advisors who guided me in high school. At the beginning I didn’t want to go to college at all, but when I decided I wanted to, Elsie sat beside me and helped me fill out my application.”

Ultimately, Jared applied and was accepted to Alfred University. He spent the past summer in the Alfred University Summer Program where he stayed on campus, took classes, and started his work study. He is saving money to purchase his own car and maintain his financial freedom.

I came up here early and at first I was scared. I missed my family and friends so much. It was a big transition for me. But I’m doing better now. I’m already connecting with people and faculty, and making friends. As soon as school starts, I’m hitting the ground running. I can’t wait to start, honestly.”

Even though he has graduated from the CAFE Program, Jared says he still gets emails from Elsie on scholarship information and college resources. Jared plans to study psychology and communications. He wants to become a psych therapist and a motivational speaker one day, building off his earlier experience as a mentor at St. James Rec Center and taking after his grandfather who is a deacon.

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