“If you come here, you’re going to college,” said college and career adviser Lemuel Andrews of the CFES program. He’s responsible for its implementation. The rest is up to the students.

Read the full article by Kim Doleatto on the Sarasota Herald-Tribune

SARASOTA — When McKensie Murray was recognized for donating more than 600 volunteer hours at a surprise ceremony, she was relieved she had her shoes on. Her high school campus felt so much like home that the senior often went barefoot. Even more so the College Room where the ceremony took place — the room she’ll miss most once she leaves for college.

“It’s the place where lives change,” Murray said. As hers did.

That room is the Booker High School headquarters for CFES, a national nonprofit that propels students into higher education. For the past ten years, CFES has been a support and mentorship hub for some of Sarasota’s most at-risk students. And although the graduation rate at the school is around 80 percent, for those who join CFES, it’s 100 percent.

“If you come here, you’re going to college,” said college and career adviser Lemuel Andrews of the CFES program. He’s responsible for its implementation. The rest is up to the students.

Murray joined as a mentee three years ago when she was lured by the CFES medical club. Three weeks later she interned with the Multicultural Health Institute and an interest in genetic illnesses emerged. She later became a mentor and coached seven fellow students. That’s how the cycle of leadership and learning creates confidence and a web of support for the 100 or so who participate in CFES.

“I’m old. Hearing it from another student is more powerful,” Andrews said.

On the education side, volunteers teach the skills kids won’t learn in a regular class day.

Volunteers like Theodore Downing, 72, who spends about 30 hours a week with Booker’s CFES kids.

The former bank executive says the one skill he finds the kids are most proud to learn is to shake hands and keep eye contact while handing out a business card. To introduce an older person first and know that a name tag goes on the right side of a shirt, because that’s where the human eye tends to travel during a handshake.

Beyond social skills, classes cover questions on how to dress professionally, write a resume, apply for colleges and scholarships. Students print business cards and learn elevator speeches. They practice mock interviews and attend real meetings where mingling with adult professionals is mandatory.

CFES kids must also visit at least two college campuses and perform two service activities that impact the school or community, like blood drives or career expos.

As far as choosing a college or career, it’s entirely up to them.

“We don’t rule out trade work or technical jobs either,” Andrews said.

Murray doesn’t necessarily fit the mold of an underserved student who needs help getting ready for college, but the benefits of CFES go beyond that.

Both her parents have master’s degrees, but she says that without the program she doubts she would have been as confident or clear on what she wanted to pursue after high school. Thanks to her time at CFES, she’s ready, she said.

For other students, the program is the only way they have to imagine a higher education. Research shows that children of parents without a college education tend to follow suit more than their peers.

And Andrews sees them all, like the student whose parents don’t want their daughter to go away to college. They depend on her because they don’t speak English. Still, Andrews pushed her to apply for scholarships and experience the breadth of possibility she might attain, whether she chooses to go or not.

The ultimate goal is to have every student at Booker High School, 1100 or so in all, involved in the CFES program, Andrews said.

Murray applied to 11 schools in and out of state and is hoping to attend Oberlin or Smith College most. While she waits for news on her acceptance, she’s earned three scholarships and is looking for more.

She wants to someday create a simulation program to learn more about possible cures for sickle cell disease.

To honor her, some CFES mentees no longer wear shoes in Booker’s College Room.