‘Community’ of Pierre Toussaint Scholars Learn About Reaching Goals


Ramses Peña, 18, was among dozens of archdiocesan Pierre Toussaint Scholars who gathered at the New York Catholic Center in Manhattan to receive advice from program coordinators and alumni on the significance of career networking during college and being involved in extracurricular projects.

The scholars were advised to stay in contact with people who support their professional goals and aspirations, such as the Pierre Toussaint Scholarship Fund coordinators; give back to the community via their parish and in other ways; and trust in the Lord.

“It has allowed me to deepen my faith, with the retreats and all,” Peña, a freshman at Georgetown University, of the Pierre Toussaint Scholarship Fund, said in an interview with Catholic New York after the fund’s annual Winter Workshop Dec. 30.

“And it has allowed me to go to college, the money helps. There is a lot of support; you feel welcomed,” said Peña, who is studying justice and peace at Georgetown. The parishioner of St. Charles Borromeo in Harlem is considering studying law and becoming an immigration attorney.

The five-hour workshop drew more than 60 Pierre Toussaint Scholarship recipients. The day began with Mass at St. John the Evangelist Church.

The Pierre Toussaint Scholarship Fund provides scholarships to graduating high school seniors of diverse backgrounds from public, private and parochial schools in the archdiocese to assist them with college fees and expenses. Students are chosen based on their strong academic record, active participation in parish and school communities and demonstration of good character and leadership abilities. The fund also provides mentorship and advisement to support college student leaders spiritually, professionally and personally.

Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, the executive director of archdiocesan Catholic Charities, told the scholars about the mission of Catholic Charities.

“In the name of Jesus, we provide help for people who need help, and we create hope,” Msgr. Sullivan said. “We welcome immigrants and refugees from over 100 countries each year.” Workshop coordinators encouraged the students, as young leaders in the Church, to refer people in need to Catholic Charities.

Tiffani Blake, a Pierre Toussaint Scholarship alumna, served as facilitator during an alumni panel discussion, during which panelists offered career advice to the current scholars. She told the students to persevere when faced with personal or societal obstacles in pursuit of academic and professional goals. The overall message was work hard, keep the faith and always seek guidance from a supportive person, such as a family member, a close friend or a mentor.

“This is about sharing insights, what’s in your hearts and minds,” said Ms. Blake, who is dean of students at the Long Island and New York City campuses of New York Institute of Technology. She is also a parishioner of St. Charles Borromeo.

Also offering encouragement were Brother Tyrone Davis, C.F.C., director of the archdiocesan Office of Black Ministry, which sponsors the Pierre Toussaint Scholarship Fund; Father Kareem Smith, parochial vicar of Annunciation-Our Lady of Fatima parish in Crestwood; Deacon Michel Hodge of St. Charles Borromeo parish; and Richard Espinal, associate director for parish and community engagement at New York Catholic Charities.

Brother Tyrone reminded students they are leaders in the Church, not just in the future “but in the now.” Also present was Leah Dixon, associate director of the Pierre Toussaint Scholarship Fund.

Workshop participants Kerry Egan, 21, a parishioner of St. Clare’s, Staten Island, and Elizabeth Hasfal, 18, a parishioner of St. Joseph’s, Bronxville, shared their thoughts with CNY.

Ms. Egan, a senior studying nursing at Boston College, said the Pierre Toussaint Scholarship Fund “is a lot more than scholarships.”

“We’ve really formed a community. I feel like I have a great support system.”

Ms. Hasfal, a freshman at Georgetown University studying political science and French, said the program “brings students together who have similarities through their faith, but come from a diverse array of backgrounds, schools and perspectives.”