By Mike Hoban
BOSTON – The Greater Boston Real Estate Board (GBREB) and college financial aid services advisor uAspire raised nearly a quarter-million dollars for academically gifted but economically disadvantaged Massachusetts students at the second Annual GBREB Foundation Scholarship Fund Leadership Breakfast held last Friday at the Intercontinental Boston Hotel. The event also honored Chrystal Kornegay, Undersecretary of Housing and Community Development for the Commonwealth, and Jack Spurr, President & CEO of A.W. Perry, with uAspire’s First One Award, given annually to business, education, healthcare, government and nonprofit leaders who were the first generation of their families to graduate from college. Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito – herself a first generation college graduate – delivered the keynote address before a gathering of approximately 250 real estate professionals, students, and their families.
The event was kicked off by a pair of scholarship recipients from last year’s Foundation breakfast, Kiana Mendes and Brandol Mejia, now first-year students at Columbia University and Franklin Pierce University respectively. “We are here to celebrate two incredible leaders in Chrystal Kornegay and Jack Spurr, who were both the first in their families to graduate from college,” began Mejia. “But most importantly, we’re here to celebrate the next generation of Chrystal Kornegays and Jack Spurrs – the 2016 scholarship recipients,” added Mendes.
Twenty-eight college-bound scholarship recipients were introduced, with nearly one-third attending schools in the Massachusetts state college system. Two of the students then shared their personal stories with the crowd, Flor Villanueva, a senior at Boston English High in Jamaica Plain headed to Bridgewater State University, and Mailot Guerrero, who is graduating from MATCH Charter School in Boston and will attend Northeastern University in the fall.
Villanueva’s family migrated to the U.S. six years ago “from a country where the only thing a woman is allowed to change is a diaper,” she said. “And I have always wanted to change more than that.” After her arrival, she became fluent in English in just six months “by watching Hannah Montana” on television and reading “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” a book she originally read in Spanish. But when it came time to navigate the difficult college financial aid forms, she and her parents (who strongly encouraged her to attend college) needed a helping hand from uAspire, which she received in the form of college affordability advisor Kristin Shapiro, who worked with her throughout the year to gain access to those funds. “Flor constantly amazed me with her positive determination, her mature, compassionate demeanor and her sense of humor,” Shapiro told the crowd.
Mailot Guerrero and his mother came to the U.S. when he was six (he father remained in the Dominican Republic to work), and with help from uAspire, was able to land a full scholarship to Northeastern, where he will pursue a degree in mechanical engineering. “I know that I can be a voice for the Hispanic population, and I want to show young people of color that they, too, can go to college and realize their dreams,” said Guerrero.
GBREB CEO Greg Vasil addressed another key component of the GBREB/uAspire partnership at the breakfast, the College to Career initiative, which provides paid, 6-8 week internships designed to cultivate a more diverse generation of real estate professionals in Greater Boston by connecting students with CRE-related firms. A pilot program was launched last year that matched three students with Colliers International, Leggat McCall Properties and the WinnCompanies, which was expanded this year to include 10 firms, with other commitments pending, and more firms being sought.
“We all know that in the last 15 years, the complexion and the look of Boston has changed,” said Vasil. “And as an industry, we have been leaders in trying to develop the future and encourage young people to (address that change). The internship program was driven by a desire to cultivate and create a more diverse generation of real estate professionals in Boston.”
The event was co-chaired by Larry Curtis of WinnCompanies, who referred to the GBREB Foundation Scholarship as “a down payment on these kids’ future…that will allow our industry to become more diverse, more inclusive, and to better serve all the residents of Greater Boston.” WinnCompanies was one of the intern program pilot firms, sponsoring Kiana Mendes (who also served as student co-master of ceremonies along with Mejia), who received high marks from the firm’s staff and has continues to be advised by her mentors at the firm.
During her keynote, Lt. Governor Polito praised the GBREB/uAspire partnership by saying “that when (the administration) finds things that are working, we need to recognize, spotlight, highlight, and promote them, and try to scale it so that it’s available to more people. uAspire, in partnership with (GBREB) have found something that is working, and that’s why I’m here today.” She then shared how being the first in her family to go to college (and subsequently law school) enabled her to pursue a career in public service on a local level before rising in the government ranks to her present position.
Kornegay shared her story of leaving home at the age of 15 and dropping out of high school before going back to earn her GED, which allowed her to enroll at the City University of New York-Hunter College. She worked full-time while carrying a full course load, and while there, she learned that the relationships that she developed during her schooling were as important as the education itself. In her senior year, a student advisor encouraged her to pursue a graduate degree and helped her to obtain a full scholarship to MIT’s Center for Real Estate. “I graduated college and graduate school with no debt because of the relationships that I learned to build in college,” she said. “So don’t be afraid to ask for help, because people want to help you.”
Spurr stressed the value of giving back after accepting his award, highlighting not only his family’s involvement through the years with GBREB and BOMA, but also the work that he and Transwestern RBJ’s Michael Joyce have done with Friendship Home, Inc., a non-profit organization serving people with developmental disabilities. Spurr, a musician, closed his acceptance speech (and the event) by singing the chorus from “Desert Pete” a song popularized by the Kingston Trio in 1963 and befitting the spirit of the event. “You’ve got to prime the pump. You must have faith and believe,” sang Spurr. “You’ve got to give of yourself ‘fore you’re worthy to receive.”
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