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Seeds for College

Everyday Angels

She invests in kids’ future

Teacher’s Summer Workshop Plants Seeds of College Dreams

28 MONDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 2005
LARA BECKER LIU, Staff Writer

The children were reluctant at first.
It was August, after all, and the week long creative writing workshop that University of Rochester professor Ayala Emmett was offering at North Street Community Center had all the appeal of summer school.

By week’s end, though, the children were arriving before Emmett. They were chanting, “We have a voice”; composing poems and letters to the editor; and taking photographs to accompany their work. And yet Emmett yearned to give them more.

“I wanted to give them what I call their birthright –the birthright of every child in America –and that is to be prepared throughout their educational experience to go on to higher education and find a place in society.”

So, using her own money, she established a trust fund for them.

“It’s a deal in which I do my part, and you do your part,” she told the seven participants, who range in age from 10 to 14, when she announced the trust fund on the last day of the workshop. “I will put the money in every year, and you will do well in school.”

She calls it “Seeds for College,” and pledges to dedicate $100 to each child every year they earn reasonably good grades. The money will accumulate until they graduate from high school, at which time it will become available for their higher education needs, such as books.

North Street Community Center Director Preston Sanders said he “fell out of the chair” when Emmett announced the trust fund. “With all the violence and negativity surrounding our young people, here was a little shining light for me and these young kids,” he said.

Emmett figures it was the least she could do.

“When I drove horme every day, all I could think of is how beautiful and wonderful these children (were). But we don’t see them as these sponges, ready to learn. We see them when there is a tragedy,” she said. After establishing the fund, she said, “I felt better.”

An associate professor of anthropology, Emmett had never worked with urban youths before; her volunteering experience was limited to soup kitchens.

But when one of her students, Spring Worth – who grew up in Marketview Heights and is now Housing Opportunities Inc.’s community planning project manager – approached her about creating a forum for city children, Emmett agreed to partner with her. Worth later wrote: “After a week of a lot of laughing, joking, crying, flaunting, disruption, frustration and eagerness, each of (the children) found their voice through writing about something that was important to them.”

Workshop participant Leeosha Lorraine Clinkscales credits Emmett with encouraging her to “write from your heart,” She, like the other participants, wrote a letter to the editor, as well as a poem titled, “My Reflection.” The letters, which were written with help from local journalist Jennifer Loviglio, touch on topics ranging from the high speed ferry to vandalism.

“When (Emmett) used to tell us what to write about, that made my hands just work,” said Leeosha, 12. She added that she hadn't seriously thought about going to college before attending the workshop but now wants to study photography.

Emmett believes the children simply needed “for someone to tell them: You can do it. Just try.” And some of them, she discovered, already were succeeding.

When Emmett told the children about the trust fund, one mother proudly pulled her son’s report card from her purse and instructed the boy to show it to Emmett.

Devin Young had struck her as “a tough guy," Emmett said, but his report card, “had all A’s and B-pluses on it.” As he handed it to her, “He said, ‘Here. I am on the road to doing it.’”

How to Help

Anyone interested in contributing to the “Seeds for College” trust fund, or in learning more about future creative writing workshops, should call Ayala Emmett at (585) 275-8736, or e-mail her at aemt@mail.rochester.edu.

About this Series

This series on Everyday Angels runs on Mondays. Everyday Angels are stories about ordinary people who do extraordinary things for others. If you want to nominate someone to be profiled, please send an e-mail with full details to MetroDesk@DemocratandChronicle.com or send a letter to Metro Desk, Democrat and Chronicle, 55 Exchange Blvd., Rochester, NY 14614.