Having spent 20 years practicing multi-district litigation and competition law at a major New York law firm, Jeanne Bolger wanted to change directions and volunteer. She joined Fordham’s Legal Economic and Educational Advancement Project (LEEAP), led by Executive Director Dora Galacatos. Bolger’s focus has been supporting at-risk seventh and eighth grade students in navigating the complicated process of applying to New York City public high schools.
Having no knowledge of the high school application process, Bolger was trained by LEEAP to understand the potential benefits and pitfalls of the process for New York City families. She learned that education remains the great equalizer for most immigrant and low-income students; a student’s ability to access high schools with exemplary programs, graduation rates, and college acceptance rates can change the trajectory of his life. Bolger’s grandparents, immigrants from Ireland, transformed their family members from struggling farm-workers to successful lawyers, engineers, teachers, professors, and bankers in one generation. This transformation was due, in addition to the family’s belief in America’s promise, to the strength of New York’s educational system.
Through the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, Bolger volunteered at I.S. 171 Abraham Lincoln, a middle school in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn. There, she assisted many recent immigrants and at-risk students who did not know they could choose their high schools. As typical with New York residents of poorer neighborhoods, the students were not informed about the more than 700 high school programs available to them. This lack of information often results in students’ attending less ideal schools in their immediate or adjacent neighborhoods.
Bolger said that she valued the opportunity to get to know the children with whom she works. Some of them, she said, arrived in New York shortly before high school application deadlines and need quick support. LEEAP volunteers are trained to offer such support. As a result, they inspire the next generation of students to achieve their highest aspirations.
The Feerick Center’s involvement doesn’t end there. In addition to training and coordinating volunteers through the help of AmeriCorps VISTA members, the center, led by Dora Galacatos, has brought together many other organizations dedicated to expanding access to education for eighth-grade students.
Bolger recommends that aspiring volunteers consider the Feerick Center, and particularly its high school access program. She believes her life has been greatly enriched by this volunteer experience, and she is deeply grateful to Fordham Law School for hosting this transformative organization. She is also grateful for the opportunity to work with the AmeriCorps VISTA members who have supported the program over the years. She stresses that the enthusiastic commitment of the AmeriCorps VISTA members and the volunteers is essential to the success of the Feerick Center.