Back in the mid-2000s, Atnre Alleyne and Tatiana Poladko were pursuing their master’s degrees in public administration at Rutgers’ Camden campus. The two met while working on crime data analysis project for a local nonprofit.
Between their work in data analysis and their shared passion for volunteerism, education and public policy, the self-described “data geeks” found ample common ground upon which their love blossomed. In 2007, the same year they graduated with their degrees, Alleyne and Poladko were wed.
It’s a crime data love story. But it’s also a deeply philanthropic one. It’s a tale that is, in many ways, just beginning.
There's huge value in bringing first-generation college-goers to a college campus.
In 2009, Alleyne and Poladko founded TeenSHARP (“Successful, High-Achieving, and Reaching Potential”) in Camden, a nonprofit organization dedicated to instilling a sense of community revitalization and educational empowerment in low-income and minority students.
Their goal? Enable underserved students to create the change they want to see in themselves and their communities by helping them realize their potential to succeed in a collegiate environment — and pass that privilege on to their peers.
It’s the implementation of an educational trickle-down theory: positively influence a select few and equip them with the resources to spread that message along to others in their community. After operating in Camden and Philadelphia for six years, the strategy has had a proven impact on the students in those cities.
Alleyne and Poladko have helped students get into the University of Pennsylvania, Vassar and Lehigh University, to name a few. Actually, one student enrolled in the program in Camden was recently accepted into Lehigh’s Global Entrepreneurship program — but he turned it down to pursue another educational opportunity in China.
“That’s the furthest we’ve ever sent one of our kids,” said Alleyne, who compared opening TeenSHARP to launching a startup. “We bootstrapped and crowdfunded through college tours,” he said. “We are a startup.”
Now, thanks to grants from Barclays, AmeriCorps and others, TeenSHARP is relocating its main office to the Community Services Building in Wilmington. They’ll have an additional site on campus at the University of Delaware, and they’re currently in the process of onboarding a few new hires — one employee to handle community outreach and a mainstay instructor.
“There’s huge value in bringing first-generation college-goers to a college campus,” Alleyne said. “They’re getting prepared for college while raising awareness within their schools.”
Once these students realize they have agency, they’re quick to pass that knowledge on to their peers, Alleyne says. It spreads like wildfire.
But the objective isn’t just personal growth — Alleyne and Poladko are instilling a sense of community and philanthropy in their students. They want them to give back to the communities they were raised in — whether that be in Philadelphia, Camden or, now, Wilmington.
Knowledge is power!
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