The Voices of Hartford Success project annually showcases students’ stories on how they rise through daunting life circumstances to triumph over childhood challenges and demonstrate how to leverage education for success.  The stories this year are quite remarkable and we’ve snapshotted three below to give you a taste.

“Through the Career Beginnings college access program, we see countless college essays every year,” according to Martin Estey, executive director of the Hartford Consortium for Higher Education, who spearheads this project.  “The Voices project is a chance to share these stories of determination and aspiration to a larger community. You just cannot hear these words and remain untouched.

“The questions are, what can we do as a community to hold up our end?  How can we come together to ensure that students such as these, who have worked so hard in the face of such steep obstacles, continue to be successful?” he asked.  “In Hartford we are working with several other stakeholders through our Coalition for Education and Talent to coordinate our efforts and maximize our impact. Whether you are touched by the individual stories you hear or simply understand that the economic vitality of this state and region depends on a well-educated workforce, we all have a stake in the future success of these young, aspirational, hard-working young people.”

As a student writing project focused on the strength, persistence, and resilience of Hartford youth, celebrating their triumphs over childhood challenges, Voices is a collaboration between The Hartford Consortium for Higher Education, the Hartford School District, the City of Hartford, Aetna (and several private individuals committed to and inspired by the youth of Hartford).  It invites students to submit their college and scholarship essays, which tend to highlight extraordinary commitment and drive.  The goal of Voices, according to its website, is “to show that the youth of Hartford are resilient, goal-oriented, and successful even in the face of often serious obstacles.”

Here are snapshots of the trajectories of this year’s honorees:

  • Grecia Aldovar.

Arriving with her brothers and father at her aunt’s house, she understood she was visiting the U.S. on a vacation with her brothers and father, only to learn they were staying, even though her mom had remained back in Peru.  Living with a stepmother and a new family, she was initially confused – but decided to stay and turned her attention to school in Hartford, where she has earned high honors, student-of-the-month awards, and taken part in many school activities.  Looking to study psychology in college, she is determined not to waste her opportunities.  “Now that I notice all my accomplishments, I feel amazing,” she wrote.  “I never knew how strong I was, until being strong was my only option in this competitive world.”

  • Alana Andrews.

Coming from Ukraine, she grew up during days when she did not eat; was forced to leave at age six along with her 18-month-old sister when her mother told her, in court, “Let go.”  Her “shooting star” arrived with new adoptive parents, who she tributes with taking her pain and responsibility away, allowing her to be a child.  Transforming obstacles into opportunities, not knowing a word of English until the age of nine, she started school at the end of Third Grade and has progressed to graduate Hartford Trinity Magnet College Academy, already having had courses at Trinity College and serving as a class representative and National Honor Society member.  “Half of my life,” she reflects, “I have spent being held hostage from learning, and now, when given the opportunity, I take advantage of it striving for the ‘American Dream.’”

  • Khalil Bradley.

He came up in a household where the State Department of Children and Families funneled him, at age 10 (plus his sister) through different foster homes, “packing and unpacking, leaving and arriving.”  After several weeks, his aunt stepped up to adopt the children.  Yet “if it was not for my experience with instability in my early life I would not be the same person,” he wrote.  In his case, he dealt with instability by reading, drawing upon times when his mother read to him, even verbally interpreting pictures before he could read.  His commitment is that he does not want his future family to go through what he did.  A graduate of the Law & Government Academy at Hartford Public High School, he has developed a vivid imagination and vast vocabulary – and a determination to pursue his education.  “Beyond myself and my family, I am driven to go to college to help fight instability everywhere.”

If you want to read the essays yourself, you’re in luck!  They are being compiled into a book by the Hartford Consortium for Higher Education, to be published very soon.  Let us know if we should get you a copy when it’s ready, and we’ll be happy to facilitate. Drop us a note here.

The Bottom Line.  The students honored by Voices of Hartford Success send a strong beacon to advocates and students alike.  Countless young people are forged by dire circumstances, steeled for the world ahead by the hardships they have seen too early in life – and overcome, beating the odds.  The lesson for students, of course, is that they can change their trajectories by refusing to fail.  The lesson for advocates is that we can – and we must – make success more accessible to more of the most at-risk youth.