Rafaela Lopes organizes GO Make a Difference, a United Way-funded operation helping children of homeless and displaced families through community dinners at a local Boys & Girls Club in Leominster, MA. She also organizes community birthday parties, with hundreds in attendance, for local children. In 2015, Lopes ventured to Haiti to work with children in clinics, nutrition centers, and schools, bringing 14 suitcases of school supplies, food and clothing. She is driven, and passionate, about helping underserved kids.
Lopes is 18 and a student at Mount Wachusett Community College’s Gateway to College program.
Since 2006, GtCNN has had an impact on Massachusetts communities. Many Gateway students, like Lopes, want to give back. Mount Wachusett is the oldest of six Gateway programs in the state, opening its doors to out-of-school youth in 2006. Since then, 2178 students have been served at all Massachusetts programs. The partnerships have proved invaluable for students, but also for the colleges. All six programs are members of Gateway to College National Network’s President’s Circle, which brings together campus presidents to support the work of the National Network and, in turn, the campus programs.
“Gateway to College offers opportunities for young people to return to pathways in education,” says Bristol Community College President, Dr. John J. Sbrega. “By simultaneously earning a high school credential and some college credits, Gateway students enjoy brighter prospects for the future. I am proud of our work in this valuable program which invests in young people and our communities.”
Dr. Sbrega is one of three Massachusetts partner college presidents retiring this year. The average college president serves for seven years, but these three presidents have gone above and beyond in their effort to serve local students: William Messner of Holyoke Community College, 12 years; Dr. John Sbrega of Bristol Community College, 17 years; and, Dr. Daniel Asquino of Mount Wachusett Community College, 29 years. All three have provided innovative pathways for students from all walks of life to succeed in the college environment.
“Gateway to College provides a clean slate for students to reengage and take ownership of their education within a supportive environment,” says Mount Wachusett Community College President, Dr. Daniel Asquino. “As the first Gateway site in New England, I have witnessed the long-term benefits this program provides to students, our college and most importantly, our community. Since 2006, 206 students have graduated from our GtC program, with the majority continuing their educational journey within our institution and beyond.”
In the next few years, GtCNN will continue to expand in Massachusetts and New England, adding programs and further closing the aspiration and attainment gap for out-of-school and off-track youth in the region. Gateway students and graduates like Rafaela Lopes will continue to inspire and mentor the younger generation of New England youth.