Yhara Casimir, 18, of Waltham, immigrated to the United States four years ago after her native country, Haiti, was devastated by an earthquake. She came with her younger sister, leaving behind their parents, and moved in with family friends whom the girls refer to as their aunt, uncle and cousins. Casimir entered John F. Kennedy Memorial Middle School as an eighth grader not knowing how to speak a word of English. She was bright but she was shy and she had not been exposed to American traditions, foods or experiences that were a way of life for her American peers.
Now, the high school senior speaks fluent English, and is a leader in the school’s show choir and her local church. Upon graduation, Casimir is set to enroll in college in the northeast and aspires to become a pediatrician. Casimir’s success can be greatly attributed to her relationship with her mentor, Jennifer Hammel, 32, of Somerville, and the John Andrew Mazie Memorial Foundation (JAMMF).
JAMMF is a nonprofit organization dedicated to transforming at-risk or disadvantaged youth into adults of promise. Over the past 16 years, the unique goal-oriented scholarship award giving program has helped more than 500 Massachusetts-based high school students go on to lead more fulfilled and successful lives while inspiring the adult volunteer mentors who work with them.
Founded 16 years ago by the Mazie family, of Wayland, to honor the legacy of their late son and brother, John Andrew Mazie, who was killed by a drunken driver at the age of 26, the Mazie Mentoring Program pairs high school sophomores who may lack parental guidance, financial resources or emotional support at home, with adult volunteer mentors who can help them thrive. John’s passion and belief in children who experience obstacles beyond their control were the inspiration behind the program’s model.
“The Mazie Mentoring Program has helped shape me into a more positive person because I now feel I can do anything I can put my mind to,” says Casimir. “My relationship with Jen has helped me learn to trust other people. I know if I need someone to talk to about anything and everything, she is there.”
Mentors work with the students for five semesters to improve their academic standing, build confidence, apply to college, graduate from high school and experience earned success, all while fostering trusting relationships. Students work to set and achieve goals while earning rewards along the way, such as a $20 gift card to a local sandwich shop, a $50 Barnes & Noble gift certificate, a free laptop and a potential $2,000 scholarship for college.
“The Mazie Mentoring Program and other similar programs are crucial to society in terms of the ripple effect their success can have in the future,” says Founder and Executive Director Lowell Mazie, who also serves on the Program Leadership Council of the Massachusetts Mentoring Partnership. “By changing one child’s life, you potentially impact thousands of other people who come in contact with that child for the rest of his or her life.”
Each year, the Mazie Mentoring Program accepts 60 Framingham and Waltham High School students. More than 90 percent of those in the program graduate from high school and more than 70 percent go on to college or other post-secondary training programs. Seventy-five percent of JAMMF’s mentee population is of Hispanic, Portuguese-speaking, Brazilian, Haitian or African-American heritages. Sixty-seven percent qualify for free or reduced-fee lunches. Certain of the program’s ability to positively change lives, JAMMF’s goal is to replicate and expand this program in other communities. The organization is publicly funded through events, grants, corporate support and individual donations.
For more information about the Mazie Mentoring Program, to become a mentor, or to support the John Andrew Mazie Memorial Foundation, visit www.mazie.org. Applications for volunteer mentors are always being accepted.