Jose was a taxi driver for a long time, but work had been slowing down for years, and when COVID-19 hit no one was taking taxis. Then Jose got sick and was not able to work, cutting his income by 70%. Jose started the Brooklyn Woods program and learned carpentry skills. We purchased tools for Jose to start his new job installing solar panels and he has almost paid off all of his child support debt. "I learned that I am artistic because that is what woodworking is; it's art!"
Victor moved to the Bronx from the Dominican Republic when he was a kid. Before he graduated from Brooklyn Workforce Innovations' "Made in NY" Production Assistant Training Program, Victor could only find part-time work. Then COVID-19 dealt Victor a devastating blow, he lost BOTH of his part-time jobs, which made supporting his mom and other relatives even harder. Victor has always wanted to break into film production but didn't know where to start. He says that he's found his passion in film. "My dream is really to be a director, write a screenplay, and maybe even produce. I also want to operate the cameras. Really, I want to do it all!"
Sheniqua is a 39 year old woman and mother of two living in Brooklyn. Through the Resident Training Program from the New York City Housing Authority, we were able to help Sheniqua become a Certified Pesticide Applicator. In the program, she learned how to communicate with residents in a professional manner and developed her soft skills to provide better service. Despite the impact of COVID-19, Sheniqua has been able to continue working and providing for her family. Her daughter is still on the honor roll. "Now I feel positive about my future. The training opened up a big opportunity for me. I never would have thought to get into exterminating, but I actually really like it. I feel like I am helping people, which I love to do." -Sheniqua, NYCHA Resident Training Academy Graduate
It’s completely changed my outlook on what I could do. At the point where I was at before JVS I really didn’t know what I was going to do. I was so grateful for this program; I wish I knew of it sooner. It really gave me a sense that things were going to be okay. But my experience with JVS was great and people need to know about this. Because there’s women out there and they’re down, and they need to know that this is an option.
But there’s something about women working together, empowering one another, holding each other up, that I’ve always been attracted to so the whole WoMentoring program felt like maybe this is a good time for me to do this. Because I was devastated I just lost my family and now I’m a single mom on welfare with an MBA and I couldn’t find a job. I worked in fashion for 11 years and walked away to pursue missionary work full time. That’s how I got involved with artisans and developing countries. For me, what I realized in my travels is that we’re all the same, especially mothers. We’re just women who want the best for our kids, we want them in clean clothes. And I see women walking around in Haiti, women walking around in Rwanda, and I see myself walking around with my baby and we’re all the same. We just want to be able to provide for our kids. And I wanted to be able to alleviate some of the poverty in these areas, and eventually alleviate my own poverty.
I would say to anyone who is thinking about taking the course or investing in the course or investing in the idea of what it could be for someone, just jump in with two feet! I am living proof that it helps. Jenesse has been a safe haven, and a place of growth and healing. And personally, to help a broken woman who has gone through a lot, it helps empower her and helps to put her on a fast track to realizing that you are worthy, and you have so much more to offer the world. And if you just put the work in and implement the things that you are taught, then you can truly be successful and not just financially but personally, mentally and emotionally.
I’ve gained so much from Jenesse, so much that I aspire to be an ambassador. It’s to the point where I really want to be a cheerleader for this shelter because I know where I started, and I know where my headspace was. This program has helped me feel free, so I can actually fly! Now I have a future and a foundation and a plan. The entrepreneurship program helped me align my business but also my personal life with where I see my life going. It allowed me to gain the confidence that’s needed not just in a business room but on a personal level. I have leveled up being at Jenesse, not just in business but personally. It’s been great, I’m very grateful.
My name is Bienvenu ‘Didace’ Irafasha; I am a sophomore at Columbia University. After a busy summer where I conducted a research project on colonial history in Rwanda and spent five weeks teaching college candidates in Tunisia, I came back to school with a clear determination to pursue a major in Economics and Political Science. This semester, I was able to take interesting classes in both fields, such as Human Rights and Intermediate Macroeconomics.
The highlight of the semester, however, is my roles on the executive boards of Columbia’s African Development Group (ADG) and the United Nations Association Columbia chapter. In these organizations, I was able to organize and attend events about sustainable development on the African continent, the United Nations work in protecting human rights, and the debates around the Legitimacy of International Law. Since the work of these student organizations is very much in line with my coursework, I enjoyed enriching my academic and professional interests in and outside class. As the end of what has been a fruitful year approaches, I take this moment to thank the LeFrak Foundation for all the support in my academic journey and for allowing me the opportunity to continue pursuing a more impactful future.
My name is Emie-Elvire Sabumukama, and I am a first-year student at the University of Notre Dame from Burundi. I am currently enrolled as an Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics (ACMS) major. This past semester, I was involved in the African Student Association and in Voices of Faith, which is a gospel choir, on campus. I am very grateful for having been chosen to be part of the LeFrak-Friedberg Scholars Program. I believe that this opportunity will not only help me grow as a person, but also contribute to the flourishing of many people’s lives in Burundi, in Africa, and the world as a whole.
My first semester in college taught me patience and optimism. Diving into a new environment, I had questions about everything from navigating the campus to finding out my career path. In these situations, I had to learn to deal with not knowing what to do and get comfortable with asking questions continuously until I get suitable answers. This experience taught me that the present is the only thing I can control and that the future depends on the choices I make along the way. Thus, the smallest goals I set every day, such as exploring different paths or optimizing my productivity through managing my time well, are crucial contributors to the person I am becoming and the milestones I will be able to reach in the future. I believe the LeFrak Foundation will also be a contributor to helping me reach my goals and shaping me into the person I want to be.
My name is Jean Lewis Nikuze. I am a junior majoring in Computer Science at Trinity College. This past semester, I was studying High-Performance Computing, Computer Systems, Physics, Chemistry and Music. The Computer Science courses helped me to understand how software and hardware work together and how to solve complicated and long tasks using computers. Physics and Chemistry were my elective courses in which I explored other domains of science. I also learned about recording and mixing songs in the music course. All those classes prepared me for becoming a software engineer who is skilled in computing, as well as other domains of science and arts. I would like to thank the LeFrak Foundation for their generous support and investment in me as this gift has allowed me to further expand my education and personal growth.
If asked to describe my fall sophomore semester in one word, that word would be “ambitious.” This semester was time to upgrade from my hundred level classes to my two hundred level classes and narrow down choices to one major. It was academically challenging; but it was worth it as I learned more about my interest in biochemistry field and was able to get myself in a laboratory with a great professor on campus. I am in a lab that is using stem cells to treat neurodegenerative diseases. I decided to major in Biochemistry and Molecular on a pre-med track. The semester has also been joyful socially as I have a caring community that has my back and my friend, Gato, from Bridge2Rwanda joined me at Wesleyan. I hold the Public Relations chair for our African Student Association and work as a Socio-Economic Disability intern at one of our offices called The Resource Center. Those two positions grant me the honor and responsibility of being the voice for other low income and marginalized students on campus, which gave me a bigger sense of purpose and responsibility in my community. None of these experiences and accomplishments would have been a reality without you believing in me and taking one step further by supporting my liberal arts education.
My name is Diane Akimana Mukundwa, and I am from the Southern part of Rwanda. I am a sophomore student in Engineering at Abilene Christian University. At school, I am involved in the International and African Student Associations where I not only find people I relate with, but also whom I get to learn a lot from. This past semester has been a hard one, but I managed it. I would say I learned so many things from the classes I was taking this last semester; however, I like saying that I learn more when I have ways to apply what I learn from school in real-life scenarios. I have been part of a research program for the last two semesters where I was applying some of the concepts from classes and also getting experience form the program itself. As experience is the best teacher, I am looking for more summer internships to broaden my skills to change myself into a person who will be ready to face the real- life problems and offer solutions. I would not end this without giving my sincere appreciations to the LeFrak Foundation for its continuous support to all of us in achieving our dreams.
My name is Winny Gire Scopas and I am from South Sudan. I am currently a freshman in Abilene Christian doing Nursing. I grew up in Juba, South Sudan with five other siblings and went to school there, as well. Although my major and main focus is Nursing, I am also interested in Agribusiness and management, because a major part of my country is known for agriculture. With my interests in Agribusiness, I plan to use my education to help alleviate hunger in my country. I have joined a number of organizations on my campus. Among those are the International Students Association and the African Students Association. Currently, I am serving as the chaplain of the African Students Association. I get to organize chapels every Tuesday. I do that by emailing different people and asking them to speak at our chapels. I also make sure that the choir is ready for chapels. It is a fun experience. The past semester was one full of lessons and growth. I learned how to communicate in the right manner to people in higher authority, mostly because of the work that I do with the African Students Association. I also learned how to persist and stand still in the midst of challenges. That is mainly because of the change of environment and challenges that it presented. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to be a LeFrak Scholar. In addition to getting financial assistance, being a LeFrak Scholar is going to be a learning experience on how to be more helpful to my community. I believe that the projects that the foundation assists with will be beneficial to the communities in South Sudan. Thank you so much once again.
My name is Gato Nsengamungu Eugene, a class of 2023 student at Wesleyan University. I am currently taking engineering courses, for I intend to study mechanical engineering. On campus, I am part of the Wesleyan Refugee Program where I help in creating a database to assist refugees across the United States to find information on the help available to them in different states in the country. I am also a committee member on Alumni Relations in Wesleyan African Student Association, where we work to create and maintain a strong relationship with Africans who graduated at Wesleyan and those on campus.
Born and raised in the rural part of northern Rwanda (Burera), I had no hope, like the rest of my agemates, of completing another high-level of education past Grade 6—we had seen most of those who studied before us complete Grade 6 and get married, turn into substance farmers or move to the capital of Rwanda where they worked as house helpers. There was little chance of moving up the hierarchy in both education and wealth, because poor education implied endless poverty. It was through the joint hands of many different people, both family and non-family members, that I attended good schools that have laid a strong educational foundation and given me a chance to attend one of the best liberal arts schools in the United States. Having grown up in a poor community and having the privilege of attending good schools, my aim is now to work towards closing the gap between the poor and the rich. I believe that having a better education is the key to closing this gap and pro- viding more opportunities to poor communities, as I was given.
Being a LeFrak-Friedberg Scholar is another privilege that I must extend my heartfelt gratitude for. The personalized coaching and mentoring from Ms. LeFrak and her team and the support for special summer projects in Africa, to me, is an opportunity to realize my dreams and figure out what ought to be done in the education sector, especially in rural parts of Rwanda, to help bridge the gap that I have observed.
Ever since I was young, I was thrilled by being excellent. At that age, my idea of success was limited to me, as an individual. However, as I grew up, I realized that I am who I am because of my family and country, thus I owe a lot to my community. As a result, my individual perspective on excellence developed into a nation’s excellence perspective. Currently, I am pursuing a double major in Economics and Computer Science at the University of Pennsylvania. Rwanda depends on businesses to achieve sustainable development and technology, which is becoming the backbone of the development. I believe that these two majors will enable me to build my business and tech skills, which are beneficial for my home country’s economy. On campus, I am currently working on a tech endeavor of developing a learning management system for the Rwandan higher learning education. I thank the LeFrak Foundation for providing mentorship that will help me become an outstanding professional.
My name is Liliane Umutoni, I am from Rwanda, and I also went to high school there, so it was my first time leaving the country. I am a freshman at Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina, and I have not yet declared my major. Luckily, I have until my second year to decide. This semester, I have been taking classes in my fields of interest -- psychology and sociology. I have also been involved with the Davidson African Student Association, which allowed me to know and interact with other people from my continent. I was also volunteering in Ada Jenkins, an organization that provides help to people in the Charlotte area with ways to improve their living conditions. This past semester has allowed me to learn more about the misconceptions that people have about life in
the US. Through Ada Jenkins, I was able to see that there are families in the US who have a hard time making ends meet and who are struggling to improve their lives on a daily basis. Most importantly, I have learned that, with combined and dedicated efforts, we have the ability to impact other people’s lives, no matter how small we might consider our input to be. That is why I am really grateful for the opportunity that the LeFrak Foundation gave me, and I am sure it will enable me to learn more about how I can use the education that I am getting now to impact more lives, especially in my country.
My name is Paterne Iradukunda, and I am currently studying Electrical and Computer Engineering with a business minor at the University of Rochester. Since a young age, I have always been fascinated by technology, science, and fiction. That led me to excelling academically and artistically in music. My parent’s economic sacrifices to give my siblings and I the best education they could afford inspired me to help others. Moreover, going to a homophobic seminary and later a gender-biased mixed-gender high school, sparked a passion in me for respect and inclusiveness among humans despite our differences in beliefs and backgrounds. Shortly after joining Bridge2Rwanda, my father passed away, and I continued my journey stronger than ever with my family, including Bridge2Rwanda. My first semester at the U of R, I learned various things which I intend to build on to be impactful to my community. I learned about developing websites, explaining basic computing systems like laptops at hardware and software level, the economic way of thinking, and revised calculus. I am currently taking online coding classes to develop a booking app for businesses by the end of the second semester. Outside class, I serve on the Student Government Analyst and Review Committee which facilitates student organizations. Also, as part of the Pan African Student Association, I sing in its A Cappella group. All these activities provide a chance for me to explore my interests and develop the skills I need to become a more effective servant leader. Finally, I present heartfelt gratitude to the LeFrak Foundation for offering me this opportunity to be a part of its scholarship program. I cannot wait to see how much it will influence my growth and implementation of my projects and those of my colleagues.
As I reflect on all the blessings I got so far, I am thankful for being a LeFrak Scholar. Currently, I am a sophomore at Lehigh University pursuing a dual degree in Chemical Engineering and Integrated Business and Engineering (IBE) Business.
This academic year is a bit challenging for me since my major is exposing me to a different way of thinking, understanding, analyzing, and solving problems in an industrial world within is completely new to me. Nonetheless, I find it interesting as I explore and discover my passion the field. Outside academics, I am still a part of the African Association, International Friendship Program, African Dancing Team, and a Christian Community on campus. Once again, I am grateful for your part in my education life! Thank you for the experiences I have and will continue to have as a student here.
My name is Grace Ishimwe, and I am the third born and first girl in five children, three boys and two girls. I live with all my siblings and parents in Kigali, and both my parents are pastors in The United Methodist Church in Rwanda. I am a freshman at Rice University, studying Psychology with a minor in Business. A good chunk of my time is spent on schoolwork, and I divide the rest in volunteering with The American Red Cross and am on the Student Admission Council. I also occasionally help my college’s diversity council to plan for events aimed at promoting diversity and inclusion. In addition, I meet with other people from my campus ministry to worship and share the word of God.
Overall, this past semester was really tough for me as I had to generally deal with transitioning, culture shock, and homesickness. However, I did enjoy different things and I met so many kind people from students to the staff whose kindness got me through rough days. My host family has also been a great help in this transition. Overall, it has been a very humbling experience. As I end, I would love to thank you for this incredible opportunity to be one of the LeFrak-Friedberg Scholars. I believe that this program will positively impact my educational experience, as well as personal development, through learning from the LeFrak Foundation team’s expertise.
My name is Eric Nshimyumukiza, I am Rwandan, and currently studying Biological Engineering at Cornell. I was born in a family of four children, and though we weren’t rich my parents managed to give us a good education. My father died when I was 18, and from that day forward, I lived with my mother. I have been at the top of my class since Primary School, and finished high school with strong grades.
I am studying Biological Engineering (Agricultural Engineering) at Cornell University, a major that focuses on using engineering skills to examine biological systems to solve problems within those systems. However, my passion goes beyond science and into the business world. I have been able to be part of the Cornell Strategic Consulting group, which provides pro-bono consulting work for organizations in the area of strategy, finance, and marketing. In addition, I actively worked on the Suna Breakfast project team, which helped the food delivery company add group orders and pick-up stations to their platform and proposing actionable improvements to Suna’s operations. Furthermore, I am part of the Cornell Men Volleyball club, where I got to meet people, have fun, exercise and practice good sportsmanship.
Before I end, I want to take this time to thank the LeFrak Foundation. I am humbled and appreciative for all the LeFrak Foundation has done and will do to positively impact mine and other young ambitious leader’s educational experience. With the support of LeFrak Foundation, I will be able to develop my own projects which will hopefully benefit Rwanda.
My name is Franck Mugisho, and I am a first year student at Columbia University from the Democratic Republic of Congo. I am planning to double major in Computer Science and Economics. The most significant lesson I learned this semester is the importance of prioritizing and the value of investing in projects that will have a better long-term impact on the community. I am thankful to be selected as a LeFrak-Friedberg Scholar. I hope I will learn a lot through the personalized coaching and mentoring sessions that I am now eligible for as a LeFrak-Friedberg Scholar.