The reason I went into coaching is because I love speaking with people. I love hearing about what’s important to them, about their goals and dreams and their challenges. And best of all, I like helping them make investments in the life they want to live. That’s also what I love most about being a fundraiser.

I am in the midst of planning for the Bergen Family Center‘s Annual Dinner. I had the pleasure of sitting down this week to talk to our honorees. I wanted to get to know them so we could better promote their involvement in the event.

Those of you in the non-profit sector know all too well the struggle of finding appropriate honorees.  Ultimately the goal of the honoree is to help the organization raise money. Most of the time, honorees are affluent and influential people who will get their affluent and influential friends to support the event. That’s fine. I get that, but I have at times struggled with honorees that just represent a financial goal and really have no history of prior support of the organization or it’s mission. Thankfully I don’t currently work for an organization that would do that. And this year our organization has chosen two very deserving honorees, that, in my opinion, are simply awesome! They are not affluent; they are significant.

Our Honorees represent our community in the best way possible.

Natives of Englewood, Yessenia Gonzales and Lamarr Thomas, armed with the positive influence of Bergen Family Center from a young age, are shaping the next generation.

Yessenia is a graduate of Janis Dismus Middle School and Dwight Morrow High School. She became the first person in her family to go to college and graduated this past spring from George Washington University where she was the commencement speaker representing the Multi-Cultural Students Service Center.

“There are those pivotal points in our lives that create change,” she reflected recently. “For me that was getting involved with Bergen Family Center’s Englewood Youth in Action in the 7th Grade.”

She explained that it wasn’t just the leadership of the group that influenced her, but the students involved as well. They helped bridge gaps in the community for her and become more aware of other people and cultures. While at GWU she founded Fuego, a Latin dance team. “It was very different coming to a college with small minority population. It was important for me to celebrate Spanish culture among my peers while also introducing our culture to the larger student population.”

She also wants to start an organization where minority students in low income neighborhoods can find out what the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is, learn how college applications work, and apply for scholarships.

Lamarr grew up just a few blocks from Bergen Family Center’s Armory Street location; know then as “Community House.” He was also a product of Englewood Public Schools in a very different time. He was the first generation of desegregation. He reflects on Bergen Family Center as a safe space for kids to socialize. “We knew that there were adults that cared about us. There was programming that was relevant,” he said. “Bergen Family Center understood even back then that teenagers needed a place to go.”

After serving in the United States Navy, Lamarr came back to Englewood and began working at the Bergen Family Center’s Summer Camp, going on to become the camp’s director. He attributes that experience to shaping his career as an educator. He has spent over 20 years with the Englewood School system as a teacher, administrator, assistant principal of Dwight Morrow High School, and for the past six years as principal of Janis Dismus Middle School.

This year, Bergen Family Center’s School-Based Adolescent Services Program is expanding into the Middle School thanks to assistance from Lamarr. A new generation will begin feeling the impact of the work started by Bergen Family Center so long ago.

“An investment made in Bergen Family Center is exponential,” Lamarr reflected. “Bergen Family Center helped people like me who are leading to shape the next generation of leaders.”

Please join me in celebrating these honorees and supporting Bergen Family Center’s Adolescent Services program. Our Friends of the Family Dinner is being held at Rockleigh Country Club on November 16th. For more information on how you can help, click here.

IMG_4455Englewood Night Market, July 2016

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