Skip to Main Content

Scholars Get College and Career Support To Earn Degrees and Achieve Their Dreams

Above: Brandon Sydnor and Housainatou Balde, Harlem Children’s Zone scholars and students at the University at Albany.

Brandon Sydnor and Housainatou Balde, Harlem Children’s Zone scholars attending the University at Albany, have big dreams. Brandon wants to be a leader in the sports management field; Housainatou wants to own a successful business. But dreams don’t come easy: they take hard work, resilience, and often, college and career support. 

Now in college, Brandon and Housainatou are getting that support from programs in our comprehensive, cradle-to-career pathway of services for college-age scholars: College Success Office (CSO) and Wealth Builds.

As we always say at HCZ, you may leave the Zone, but the Zone never leaves you. As they transition into their post-secondary journeys, our scholars have the backing of CSO, which helps them to get into college and earn their degrees, and Wealth Builds, which helps them build successful financial futures and bright careers.

To get a firsthand look at the impact of CSO and Wealth Builds, we caught up with Brandon and Housainatou at the University at Albany to see how they are progressing, hear about their goals for the future, and learn about how our pipeline of programs are fueling their success.

Support Persisting Through College

When Brandon graduated from HCZ Promise Academy, he felt confident that his time at our premier K-12 charter school prepared him to take on the challenges of college. But as he applied to and later transitioned to college, he encountered a few curveballs. As a high school senior, he had to navigate the tricky application process; in college, he struggled to balance study time, a busy class schedule, and holding himself accountable. CSO helped him every step of the way. 

Now, as a college freshman, he received guidance from his CSO counselor, Hakeem. This includes one-on-one coaching, academic and emotional support, and even in-person visits to campus.

“Coming into college is a big shocker,” Brandon says. “It was a learning experience for sure. But Hakeem was there for me. I talk to CSO almost every week now. They’re like a second family.”

Housainatou’s sophomore year was especially challenging. After a promising  freshman year, she saw her grades slip and her focus falter, as the newness of college wore off and the reality of hard work set in. She started losing confidence in herself. That’s when Ebony, her CSO counselor, stepped in to help her push past her self-doubt and remind her: this is where she belongs.

“Ebony helped me become the person I am now: more persistent and consistent,” says Housainatou, who attended our Zone After School Programs. “Even in my junior year, I still reach out to her for advice.”

“We will always be there as a resource”

As we always remind our scholars — through many emails, phone calls, and college visits — HCZ is never too far away. CSO is committed to giving our scholars the tools to thrive independently so they can make the most of their college experience. 

“But we will always be there as a resource to make sure they are sustaining themselves through college,” Kevin “Doc” Dougherty, CSO’s managing director, says. “Whether it’s academically, mental health wise, or figuring out finances — we’ll always be there to provide them college and career support.”

Investing in Our Scholars’ Futures

Our support doesn’t stop with getting our scholars to and through college: we also help them figure out how to pay for college. As a high school senior, Brandon took financial literacy courses and workshops. These opportunities, offered through Wealth Builds, helps our scholars hone their financial management skills so they are better prepared to finance their post-secondary education and other life goals.

“I appreciate how HCZ makes investments in us and our futures,’’ Brandon says. “Before graduating from HCZ Promise Academy, the Wealth Builds Team helped me understand how to properly handle my finances and manage my money, budget for the future, and avoid going into debt.”

Through Wealth Builds, scholars also have the opportunity to earn college scholarships if they meet certain academic benchmarks. 

“I was able to pay for a large portion of my tuition through a scholarship from HCZ,” Housainatou says. “Opportunities like these show they believe in us.”

Build Bright Careers, Achieving Dreams  

Leading up to and after graduation from college, Brandon and Housainatou can look forward to help from Wealth Builds in launching their careers. This includes help crafting resumes and cover letters, applying for and getting jobs, and opportunities to attend professional development workshops where they can deepen the skills that empower them to have successful careers.

From the moment they are born to the time they get their first jobs, we encourage our scholars to dream big. We’re cheering them on at every stage of that journey.

Brandon and Housainatou have dreams — and they have no doubt they can achieve them.

“I have a lot of dreams,” Brandon says. “I want to work in sports, and I know I’m going to be something someday because I’ve had people motivating me and always wanting me to succeed. I’m on a good path.”

“You have to just stay true to yourself and be honest with yourself,” she says. “You feel it: that’s intuition. I believe in myself because people like Ebony believe in me.”