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Although twin brothers Devon and Devren Purdie grew up without their dad, they were able to find father figures through the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection to help guide them.
"It's getting to be around other guys around your age going through the same problems as you, and you have a whole bunch of men mentors there and they help give you the father figure that you're probably missing at home," said Devren Purdie, 18.
The two brothers, who are slated to graduate from School Without Walls Commencement Academy this year, were among the more than 270 at-risk youths who were recognized on Wednesday for their participation in the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection, a youth development program that provides students with academic support, part-time jobs and mentoring.
The program was founded by Danny Wegman and his father Robert Wegman in 1987 as a way to give students at risk for academic failure the extra support they need to make it to graduation. Each student enrolled in the program has an advocate who helps them navigate everything from picking classes to securing internships.
Hillside's full-time youth advocates mentor more than 2,200 students in 16 Rochester city high schools. Almost all of the schools graduated at least one student during Wednesday's ceremony.
As with any traditional graduation ceremony, it was all smiles from both the program's graduates and Hillside staff prior to the event.
"This is a great, great moment for our students, for their families, and for this community," said Augustin Melendez, president of the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection. "We're able to graduate today 271 children from the Rochester City School District. It's a major accomplishment. They should be very proud of this accomplishment,"
The challenges of getting students to this point, Melendez said, includes guiding them through the pressures of poverty, peer pressure, gangs, violence and other social issues.
Hillside youth advocates are critical, Melendez said, in providing a pathway and guiding them toward college, the military and preparing them for the working world.
For Devon Purdie, that means plans for a management career with Wegmans, building on a job at the Pittsford store he got through the Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection. He said he's still deciding where to attend college.
Devren Purdie said he plans to study accounting at the Rochester Institute of Technology fall, and will also continue on a management path at Wegmans.
Source: Democrat and Chronicle