The Achieve Program, San Francisco, CA – April 18, 2021

by George J Elbaum

The Achieve Program is a year-round, four-year high school scholarship and academic enrichment program for underserved students from low-income families.  By providing tuition grants plus quality educational and extensive individual support, Achieve increases the options and opportunities for its students, all of whom are selected based on demonstrated academic excellence and high motivation to change and improve their lives.

Currently, achieve serves 94 students and has a staff of six, including three educators, all dedicated to supporting and mentoring the students.  Although Achieve’s tuition grants enable students to attend private schools in the San Francisco Bay area, the most important aspect of the program is Achieve’s active support to students throughout their four years of high school.  Mentoring, tutoring, cultural excursions, summer internships, community service programs, extensive college counseling, and parent support are some of the services provided to ensure that Achieve students are informed, educated, service-minded, and well-prepared to succeed in college and beyond.  Achieve thus opens a world of possibilities for its students.

One of Achieve’s students, Mia, is also a participant in the JFCS Holocaust Center’s The Next Chapter program.  She attended my talk to The Next Chapter last month and, through the JFCS Holocaust Center, she invited me to speak to her community at Achieve.  Mia wrote, “I wanted to be able to share this wonderful experience with my other Achieve mates. I wanted to share (his) inspiring stories with all of them, to help them reflect on their own lives just like I have.”  Starting with Mia’s invitation, Achieve’s Sarah Jiménez and Penny Savryn, the Center’s Education & Marketing Manager, organized my talk.

Notes from Students

Two weeks after my talk to The Achieve Program students I received via email a Kudoboard with “thank you” notes from the students.  Typically, when receiving notes or letters from students, my wife Mimi and I read these together and we highlight and excerpt those statements that especially resonate with us.  However, the Kudoboard format made it difficult to do this, resulting in a delay, but Penny Savryn graciously transposed these notes into text, and Mimi and I excerpted the key statements which are listed below.  Thank you very much for your notes, your thoughts, and your “thank you’s”.

  • One of the highlights from your speech that really stood out to me was when you said that the first time you spoke at the Boston Holocaust Memorial, you realized your story “had value.” Your story has made a huge impact on students like me, providing us with more knowledge on what happened and how it affected those who were victims of this unjust, horrific time in history. I want to thank you for allowing us to see your vulnerable side and telling us your story!
  • Your story gives me motivation to push through my struggles knowing how courageous others can be like yourself all those years ago, and even now by sharing your story of survival.
  • I like how you kept emphasizing the golden rule to treat others the way you would want to be treated all throughout your presentation. Once again thank you for your unforgettable presentation filled with amazing advice.
  • Your mother’s courage and resilience especially stood out to me because it must have been extremely terrifying having to constantly hide and outsmart the Nazi soldiers.
  • Your comment about living in the moment stood out to me because often we find ourselves anxious about the future.
  • It was a very sad and vulnerable story but very inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing it.
  • What stood out to me was that even as a child you were strong enough to live through something like this and share your story with others as an adult.
  • I will cherish your advice and call out injustice when I witness it.
  • Hearing that you struggled to take the words out of your mouth at first was something that made me understand how hard and how courageous someone must be in order to go on a podium and speak of their tragedy. I will move forward in life and speak out those words that are hard to say the first time around. As long as I get the people to hear my voice and understand my words, I will speak out as many times as necessary.
  • Knowing that your forgiveness was even extended to the people that have caused you and your family so much grief was very admirable, and it has taught me to become more forgiving towards others.
  • The number one thing that stuck with me is the Golden rule because this is something I truly believe in and abide by in my life.
  •  I appreciated how you talked about recent anti-Semitism incidents like the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting because this reminded me that injustices are still present in our society, and we must keep working hard to improve as a society.
  • One thing that stood out to me was the idea that blaming others would only lead to more hatred.
  • After hearing what you went through and knowing that you were still able to become successful despite the odds, encourages me to work harder.
  • I will never truly know the life you lived, but you helped me understand your story in such an impactful way. Thank you for having the courage to tell us your story because now we will learn to help others in need.
  • Something I took away was your journey in accepting the terrible things that have happened to you and your family, and your courage to share your powerful story. This sent an important message to me which is that everyone has a valuable story to share.
  • Thank you for sharing the courageousness of your mother and the compassion shown by the Polish families that took you in.
  • Something that amazes me was your statement that accusing others just encourages more hate. In the future, I will make it a point to speak up when I see injustice, and I’ll always uphold the golden rule.
  • Schools don’t talk about all that occurred during the Holocaust; I am very grateful that people like you take time to educate generations about events of the past. If we don’t teach future generations about the past it is doomed to repeat itself.
  • I really needed to hear someone tell me the importance of speaking up no matter what. I feel that there have definitely been areas of my life in which I could have spoken up.
  • I just returned from a school retreat and I thought a lot about the words you said and how you refused to back down in the face of adversity. It made me reflect on how I want to live the rest of my life.
  • Although I would like to believe I follow the golden rule all the time, that really isn’t the case and I need to work on that and stay true to my word.
  • I especially appreciate how you drew parallels of bigotry from the Holocaust to events happening today, such as discrimination towards Asian Americans and immigrants.
  • Your story is truly inspiring and encourages us to speak out about injustices happening in our community. Although speaking out can be a bit frightening at times, your words really impacted me and I feel much more confident in using my voice.
  • Your story was very inspiring, especially when you talked about how hatred and racism thrive in the shadows and we ourselves should speak out whenever we see something that is unjust.
  • I really appreciate what you said to us, and can honestly say that this has been one of the most impactful talks that I have ever heard. After hearing your talk, I decided to speak out about my problems instead of keeping them in.
  • Your presentation emphasized how important it is to reshare stories so that yours, and millions of other survivors’ experiences will not be forgotten. As police brutality and hate crimes keep rising, I will ensure to spread awareness to people through social media.
  • I truly felt that your story was an eye-opening experience and I found it very motivating.  I could tell how much passion you have for teaching others what it was like to survive a tragic event like this. I was able to sense the emotion you had about this topic even through the computer screen and it really touched me. 
  • I know this took a lot of courage to tell people you’ve never seen before about something so personal, I just wanted to tell you that I deeply appreciated the story of your life. It taught me some things I never knew, and how to be a better person and be more grateful because there is always someone that is less fortunate than you or the next. 
  • Your stories gave me a new perspective on life and the world as a whole. Additionally, you inspired me to make change and help others within my own community. I really valued your talk.

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