The college and career pathway taken by Julien Smith has brought the former CFES Scholar from Wadleigh High School for the Performing and Visual Arts full circle back to CFES as Program Director to help students like his former self.
In between those two points, Smith spent over a decade helping young people overcome obstacles on their way to achieving their college and career dreams. His quest started at SUNY-Binghamton where he majored in sociology and mentored “at risk” eight-grade students in New York City through the Juvenile Urban Multicultural Program (JUMP Nation).
“I joined a lot of clubs in college that helped me grow in many ways,” says Smith. “I learned a lot about mentoring by attending workshops through JUMP Nation and also by joining Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, where I met like-minded individuals of color who guided me and helped make my time at Binghamton even more enjoyable.”
After graduation, Smith returned to New York as a Team Leader at the Harlem YMCA, where he implemented successful programs in education, recreation, youth leadership, community service and arts. He also facilitated college readiness curriculum to prepare 11th and 12th grade participants for college as a Y Scholar Program Advisor
Smith continues to gain more experience helping youth succeed at a YMCA in Jamaica Queens at the Y Roads Center geared towards participants who are not in school or not working. A program called YouthBuild allowed participants to obtain their High School Equivalency through a partnership with the Department of Education.
“I assisted students in setting and achieving their leadership development goals, and provided support as needed,” says Smith, who organized college fairs and trips and guided students through the financial aid and college application process. “I was also given a unique opportunity to work with court-mandated youth through a program called Every Child has the Opportunity to Excel and Succeed (E.C.H.O.E.S) in conjunction with the Department of Probation.
In that program, Smith helped individuals address serious issues like addiction and substance abuse, family, parenting, marital problems, suicide, stress management, self-esteem and mental and emotional health. Not surprisingly, he was asked to take on a leadership role in the absence of a program manager to help with budgets, strategy, program objectives and goals.
The YMCA later lost its Y Roads contracts, which were picked up by Community Mediation Services, where Smith will serve as program director for the ECHOES program until he joins CFES. “The only thing guaranteed in life is change,” says Smith, referring to the most valuable pieces of advice he received from a mentor. “The most important thing I tell scholars today is that they understand who they are as a person. Take time out to understand the things that motivate you. Never be complacent of your current achievements.”