Three-dozen Freeport and Westbury high school students this month were recognized for completing the PROSPER program at The Viscardi Center (TVC) during its annual Moving-On Ceremony. PROSPER (People Reaching for Opportunities to Succeed Personally, Educationally, and Realistically), headed by Abilities, Inc. at TVC, is a yearlong attendance retention program that provides “at-risk” juniors and seniors with fresh, real-world perspectives on education and a chance to explore the vast career opportunities available after graduation.
William T. Rolack, Sr. — Senior Director of Workplace Strategy, Diversity, and Strategic Alliances at Major League Baseball and long-time member of one of the Center’s Business Advisory Council — spoke candidly before the 36 students and their families about the challenges ahead and methods of overcoming them. Success starts with a positive outlook and a vision, said Rolack.
“Today is about moving up in the world, about envisioning your future success,” he said. “Your current experience doesn’t have to be your future experience. When would be the right time to start living your life? Now. Your power is now. This is your moment. There’s nothing that you can’t do, be, or have.”
Barry Tussman, Director of Ability, Inc.’s Youth Transition and Placement Services, touched on the PROSPER program’s steady growth over the years. “These students have confidence and goals,” Tussman said, praising participants on the overall improvements they made from start to finish. “We have served close to one thousand students to date, and I’m very proud of the direction we’re heading in.”
Since PROSPER launched in 1997, 98 percent of certificate recipients graduated high school and went on to pursue college, employment, the military, vocational training, and/or technical school. 2016’s batch boosted attendance rates as low as 40 percent to 91 percent while enrolled in the program, and, as a result of PROSPER’s resume development and interview preparation services, 92 percent secured jobs during the year. Students have a good incentive to attend class — participating school districts grant four academic credits upon completion of the program.
PROSPER has established a network of diverse partnerships among local businesses, colleges and universities, high schools, and industries—including Adelphi University, Hofstra University, SUNY Old Westbury, Northwell Health, North Shore Animal League, JetBlue, GEICO, Chase, IKEA, Cedar Creek Water Pollution Control Plant, Nassau Community College, National Grid, The First National Bank of Long Island, the U.S. Army, the Freeport and Westbury Fire Departments, Lincoln Tech, Brittany Beauty School, and the American Red Cross, among others. Through field trips, vocational tours, and one-on-one guidance and mentorship sessions, these entities offer students a realistic glimpse into the local workforce. The Long Island Community Trust Foundation, a non-profit organization that connects donors with charities, covers funding for weekly tour coordination and student lunches.
“Without PROSPER, I’d never believe I could be a teacher, or a pharmacist, or even join the military,” said one student, who was awarded a special certificate in recognition of outstanding achievement. “Now I have the confidence to enter the real world with both feet on the ground.”
Other speakers included JetBlue’s Director of Crew Relations and Compliance, Freeport Fire Department’s Fire Marshal, and Army personnel. Adrien Riley, a seasoned PROSPER instructor and vocational tour developer who stepped into the role of Program Coordinator in April, dispensed certificates to each participant and closed the ceremony with words of encouragement.
Success is the result of determination, she said to the attendees. “If you work for it, it can be yours.”
Founded by Dr. Henry Viscardi, Jr., who served as disability advisor to eight U.S. presidents and became one of the world’s leading advocates, The Viscardi Center educates, employs and empowers children and adults with disabilities. It provides Pre-K through High School education, school-to-work transition services, vocational training, career counseling and placement, assistive technology, adapted driver education and workforce diversification assistance to children, adolescents and adults with disabilities, and businesses.