July 13, 2012
Carter Higley ’01 of Houston, founder of LEAD (Letting Everyone Achieve Dreams), a youth mentoring and leadership program, calls SMU a “game-changer.”
“I had a wonderful experience from an academic perspective, but what was even more fulfilling was the opportunity to give back through community involvement,” he says. “I think I may have started out a bit singularly focused, and my volunteer experiences definitely broadened my perspective.”
As an SMU student, Higley served as a volunteer tutor for struggling Dallas students. Working with the youngsters inspired him to join Teach for America after graduation. Assigned to Compton, a city in southern Los Angeles County, he witnessed the need for strong role models and enrichment opportunities outside the classroom.
“Summers were particularly challenging for students,” he says. “They had a lot of free time on their hands and not much to do that was productive.”
After completing his teaching commitment, Higley forged a successful career in business – he is now a financial adviser with UBS – but his students left a lasting impression.
In spring 2005, he and his wife, Jamil, founded LEAD. The year-round program for inner-city youth instills confidence and strengthens self-esteem through team building and leadership training activities, as well as community service projects and a summer wilderness experience.
What sets LEAD apart from similar programs is a six-year commitment required of both students and mentors. Students must apply and be accepted as sixth-graders – participants are called “LEADers.” They work with the same three mentors until they graduate from high school. Throughout the school year, LEADers must meet academic, service and other standards to remain eligible.
Higley reports that “all 16 students in our first LEAD class have completed high school and are attending college, including a student who was the first from his high school to go to MIT.”
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