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When Scholars Apply to College, College Coordinator Has Their Backs

Laressa Bordenave, College Coordinator

Harlem Children's Zone college coordinator Laressa Bordenave wears a green shirt poses against a colorfully painted mural

Applying to college can be complicated. From taking the SAT/ACT to writing essays to securing financial aid, there’s a lot twists and turns. Our college coordinator Laressa Bordenave knows this all too well.

In high school, she was a straight-A student who dreamed of earning a degree in community health. When the time came to apply to college, Laressa carefully filled out and submitted her applications. She waited. Months passed without a response. It was then that she made a distressing discovery: there was a mix up with her applications and the colleges never received them.

But Laressa didn’t give up on her dream. After doing some research and calling the college admissions officers, she sorted out the issue and turned in her applications right before the deadlines. Soon after, the acceptance letters came pouring in.

“It was a really stressful experience,” Laressa says. “I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I did.”

She’s making sure of that. A college coordinator at HCZ’s Employment & Technology Center (ETC), Laressa provides everything our scholars need to own the application process and get into college.

Lessons in self advocacy

At HCZ, we believe college is the primary pathway to breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty. Team members like Laressa and the programs they run are the heart of our mission.

Like many HCZ staff members, Laressa leverages her own personal experience to support her scholars. At the time of her college application crisis, she learned to advocate for herself. Now, she’s teaching her scholars to do the same.

“I’m proud to see my scholars take responsibility for their choices and make changes that are in their best interests,” she says. 


Community of support

Most people don’t learn how to make those choices and changes by themselves. It takes a teacher, a mentor — a community of support. Laressa understands this firsthand.

After relocating to Brooklyn from Haiti following the country’s 2010 earthquake, she was taken in by her uncle and enrolled in the school where he taught.

“I didn’t have time to process everything that had happened,” she recalls. “There was an earthquake. Then moving. Then a new school. Then a new language.”

Laressa leaned on her school community for support. Her French- and Creole-speaking classmates helped her with translations. Her teachers gave her extra tutoring after school. By the time she graduated from the school, she was fluent in English.


College is only the first step

Now, the college coordinator is helping to lead a similar village of support at HCZ. Laressa loves to make a big deal of the success of her scholars. Any time one of them receives a college acceptance letter, she makes a point to announce it over the loudspeaker at ETC.

“They try to act all cool and not get embarrassed,” Laressa laughs. “But I know they’re proud. We’re proud, too.”

It’s a huge milestone. Still, Laressa reminds her students that getting into college is only the first step. There’s more to be done — and the job isn’t finished until they’re officially enrolled.

“Then you need financial aid, letters of recommendation,” she says. “I remind my students, ‘We have a lot of work left to do!’