June 13, 2017
Robert Ponichtera
The mission of Liberty's Promise is to support young immigrants in need while encouraging them to be active and conscientious American citizens. This blog, written by Robert M. Ponichtera, Executive Director and Founder of Liberty's Promise, highlights their mission and the grants they have received from the Community Foundation.

Since 2005, Liberty's Promise has conducted after-school programs of civic engagement and summer professional internship programs for low-income, immigrant adolescents (ages 15-21) across Northern Virginia. Over the past 12 years, we've helped more than 1,000 youth learn about their communities and American civic life.

Liberty's Promise supports young immigrants in need while encouraging them to be active and conscientious American citizens. Our programs aim to make the immigrant experience an affirmative one for young newcomers while instilling in them a sense of pride and support for American ideals of democracy and freedom. By doing so, we seek to reaffirm our fundamental egalitarian and democratic traditions for future generations.

In other words, we help young people feel at home where they live. Once they do, we've found that they become actively involved in their communities, stay in school, and go on to some form of higher education. More than 99 percent of our participants have graduated high school and 67 percent are enrolled in college. Both of these figures far exceed the national average high school graduation rate of 74 percent and college enrollment rate of 51 percent for low-income, minority students (according to research from Johns Hopkins University and Pew Research). Among our youth are graduates of the Boston University Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine, Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, Duke, George Mason, Marymount, and the University of Virginia, just to name a few.
Apart from this data, we know we have succeeded when young people stay in touch with us years after they've completed our programs. We strive to create mentorships that have greater impacts beyond the classroom or workplace, and we know that our work makes a lasting difference when a participant like Kalilu states, “Liberty’s Promise taught me how to believe in myself.”

We are thankful for the generous support of the Community Foundation for Northern Virginia, which has significantly assisted us in our work to help immigrant youth learn about the United States. We have received $51,985 in grants since the foundation's 2006 grant cycle, including $25,000 in 2010 as one of the inaugural Future Fund awardees. Over the years, this financial support has helped us provide meals for our youth in our after-school programs, paid for transportation for educational field trips, allowed us to provide allowances for internships, and supported staff time, so that our program officers can build long-lasting relationships with our youth.

Thanks to the foundation’s support, our youth from West Potomac and T.C. Williams High Schools had the opportunity to take a trip to the University of Virginia this past semester. For many of our youth, this was their first time touring a college campus. Youth were paired with a UVA student who took them on a personalized tour of the campus, and talked to them about different options for financial aid and scholarship opportunities. One of our youth, who previously thought that UVA was unrealistic due to the cost, was excited by this new information and stated that she had to continue doing well in school so that she could one day attend UVA.

In addition, these funds help us give our students critical experience in the American working world. Vanessa, one of our youth from West Potomac High School, had the opportunity to participate in an internship with Sacramento Community Center last summer. Through this experience, she discovered her passion of working with children and helping them with their school work. After completing her internship, she realized that working with young students was more than just a good experience, but something that she wanted to pursue as a career. Entering her senior year of high school, Vanessa committed to attending Northern Virginia Community College and declared education as her major. Most recently, Liberty’s Promise nominated Vanessa for the New Futures Scholarship. During the interview, she was asked why she was interested in pursuing a career in education. Vanessa was able to recall her experiences with her internship and explain why this experience led her to passion of becoming an educator. This past week Vanessa received the news that she was selected as a New Futures Scholarship recipient.

Another youth who received the exciting news of being selected as a scholarship recipient was Anderson, a youth from our Wakefield High School program. Anderson came to the United States from El Salvador by himself on an incredible journey that would eventually reunite him with his mother after 10 years of separation. As a student in El Salvador, he lacked motivation and as a result he didn't do well. When he moved to the United States, he realized he needed to make a change; therefore, he switched his habits to push himself towards higher goals. At first, he struggled with learning English, but six months later he was enrolled in Honors classes and was on the Honor Roll. He joined Liberty's Promise in the fall of 2015 and has been elected as the program's president the past two semesters in a row. This year we nominated him for the Posse Scholarship. After a three-round interview process that began with more than 1,500 nominees in the area, Anderson was selected as a Posse scholar and given a full-tuition scholarship to attend Bucknell University.

Exposing our youth to American political and social structures is at the very core of our work. By showing young people opportunities for success, we also show them that the phrases in our standard lexicon, "liberty and justice for all," "equal justice under the law," and "government of the People, for the People, and by the People" have real meaning. In this context, the Community Foundation of Northern Virginia and the people who support it also play a great role in our work. People involved in philanthropy should not undervalue their enormous contribution to their own communities. According to recent research, Americans are the most philanthropic people on earth, outgiving the British and Canadians two-to-one, and other countries at a much higher rate. This is a long-standing tradition for the people of the United States. From organizing relief for starving children in Belgium during World War I to rescuing the Vietnamese boat people, America has given of its resources and its people much more than the rest of the world combined.

By endeavoring to look out for those in the community who need assistance, by working to make the community better for everyone, you demonstrate the true meaning of American citizenship. Through your actions, you show yourselves to be representatives of the real greatness of the American Republic. As such, you are excellent role models for our youth as they learn about American civic life. This is another reason for Liberty's Promise to thank you.