We are grateful to our community partners, with whom we work closely with to offer individuals and families support as they work to move forward in their lives. Our collaboration with Aaron’s Presents, a nonprofit that gives youth an opportunity to develop and carry out a plan that benefits others, was recently featured in a WCVB 5 for Good segment:
Leah Okimoto, the founder and executive director of Aaron’s Presents, shared Eric’s story with us as a potential grantee. Eric, who is from Lawrence, Mass., became actively involved in Aaron’s Presents in the 7th grade and advocated to get a new bike rack for his school, which he was able to secure. Eric’s determination, ability to understand a need within his community, and work alongside his peers to find a solution remain inspiring.
When Eric was offered a full scholarship to attend The Governor’s Academy for high school, he needed some assistance with supplies to support his academic success. Eric told his story in his own words in a letter to Doris:
Dear Ms. Buffett,
I am Eric Daniel Berard, and am fifteen years old, nearly turning 16. I have just finished my first year at The Governor’s Academy and it was such a new and amazing experience for me that has opened my eyes in so many ways. I have discovered things I love to do and things I am also not so fond of. I have discovered a passion for photography and running, and I have discovered that I still do not enjoy being in the presence of high heights and having to fix lighting for shows presented at my school.
I was raised in Lawrence, Massachusetts and come from a background of laborers. I do not have well educated family members that could support or help me through school. I had to stay after my classes to ask for extra help and extra practice, but I wanted to learn and loved going to school despite the toll of energy it took sometimes! I have a passion for trying to become a better version of myself, even in the smallest of ways. When running, if I shave off a good twenty to thirty seconds, I already feel like I have made progress in becoming a better runner. Every single little change builds on top of one another, and all of these little single changes that have built off of one another have made me the young man that I am.
I have learned from everything that I have gone through, both the good times and the hard times. No matter where I go or who I meet, I learn something from every experience that I have and every one of the opportunities that I am fortunate enough to have. I began building a network of support around myself when I was in seventh grade. It started with Mark Kampert from YDO, Thomas Bean, a founder of my school, Spark Academy, and firm believer in the importance of getting kids from low income areas such as Lawrence into prestigious schools that can provide them with more opportunities for success. Also, Leah Okimoto from Aaron’s Presents has played a tremendous role in helping me and enabling me to keep making progress. She played an enormous role in helping me during my high school application process and ensuring that all of the deadlines I had were met and I did not miss anything I needed to do. She has even taken me in with open arms and helped me during rough times, and I see her family as my own, along with everyone else who has dedicated so much of their own time and resources for me. I have been nurtured along the way by so many people who were interested in only having the best for me and I do not know where I would be without the help of all of those around me.
I was mesmerized when I was told that I had been granted full financial aid to go to The Governor’s Academy all four years without having to worry about paying any of the tuition. Even speaking about it to this day with a year under my belt, I still feel like it is a dream that has come true. I believe that my two summers at GovsPLUS were a key factor in my admission process. I had the director of GovsPLUS, Michelle De la Guardia, willing to stick her reputation on the line and vouch that I would be a great contributor to the community at The Governor’s Academy.
Last summer as I prepared to start high school, I did not know how I was going to acquire all of the supplies that I needed. Leah happened to connect with another Leah, from the Letters Foundation, and she encouraged me to submit a letter requesting help. I wrote a letter and was once again blown away when I heard the amazing news that your foundation was going to buy a brand new MacBook Pro and give me $1,000 to spend at Target for everything that I needed, such as sheets and blankets for my new bed to clothing! There were so many items that I needed to live at boarding school, and I would never have been able to afford them on my own. Because of you, I felt less nervous about living on my own for the first time, and could focus on meeting new people, learning my new routine, and studying.
Thank you so much for everything that you have done for me. I would like to end this by expressing my gratitude for the time and resources that you have invested in me. I earned a varsity letter in track and all A’s and A-’s, and you played a very significant role in my success. You have made my first year at The Governor’s Academy more prosperous because of the gifts you gave me, which allowed me to start off at Govs on the right foot. I intend to continue giving it my all and will never forget your generosity.
Thank you again,
Eric Daniel Berard, Jr.