Sunday, September 21, 2014

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Alumni


  • Alumni Profiles (below) – Alumni from Possibility Projects across the country discuss how the program helped shape their lives as young adults.
  • Featured Alumni Page – Read about former Possibility Project-ors who are doing cool things out in the world.

Alumni Profile: ALEJANDRO “ALEX” BATRES (Saturday Cast, 2010-2012)

“When I was first introduced to The Possibility Project I was 15 years old living in a 1 bed room Washington Heights apartment with a single mother with a family of five. My father was killed when I was two. I was one of those kids that parents didn’t want their kids around. I smoked weed every day and was member of a gang. I had a juvenile record of six arrests, and I dropped out of high school to sell drugs. I had a very bad temper so I would fight anyone who looked at me wrong. My life wasn’t going anywhere and I would wake up every morning just to be mad at what a disgrace I was and how terrible my situation was. My family was so disappointed in me – I felt they didn’t love me anymore so home didn’t feel like home. I would stay out all night long and sell drugs, get high, get drunk, etc. with my friends. I came to a point in life were I felt like taking my own gun, putting it to my head and pulling the trigger because I was afraid that was I going to die on the streets anyway. But I couldn’t do it to my mother.

One day when I felt like going to school I met one of the TPP directors, Jeff Flowers. He told me about a program that would help me bring change to my community. I thought he was crazy at first but for some reason I wanted to get involved. I showed up at the first rehearsal, I was skeptical about the activities that we were doing – singing, acting, holding hands, etc. I had never felt so weird in my life up until we wrote our stories on these index cards and taped them up on the wall. When we walked around and read everyone’s stories, I read about other kids who were in gangs. At that point, it was the first time in a long time I had let my guard down. I didn’t feel so alone.

I have now been a part of TPP for two years and I couldn’t be more grateful. I have made so many brothers and sisters who understand my life and don’t think I’m just a delinquent. I feel like I’m a part of something amazing.

When this year’s show was finished I saw I a smile on my mother’s face that I hadn’t seen since I was 13. I cried at how happy I was because she was proud of me. I now see potential and talent in myself that I never thought I even had. I also learned how to deal with my anger without violence or losing control. I learned how to talk to my mother without arguing and now our relationship is stronger than ever. I’m no longer in a gang and I’m not scared of what people think of me because I know that I’m going to make far in life, reach my goals, and live my dreams – as long as I remember to think positive and love and believe in myself.

I now see the value of education as well. I have been studying with friends from TPP who are willing to help. I have applied for my GED, and plan to go straight to college and pursue a career in both acting and music/audio production. More importantly I plan to change my community and make the world a better place. I would like to thank The Possibility Project with every ounce of my heart. You saved my life.”

Alumni Profile: NIQUANA CLARK – (Foster Care Cast, 2009-2012

“About a year ago, I was sitting in my foster care agency office complaining about how bored I was with life in its entirety. So the education specialist there asked me what I would be interested in doing. I told her that I wanted to act, I wanted to be on stage. She told me about The Possibility Project, and suggested I go to an audition. I went to the audition with Shakespeare in mind and that sort of really cheesy, over the top theatre stuff. When I arrived, Paul asked everyone to bark like dogs and run around the room as if we were on fire. That’s when I knew not to expect anything and to just roll with it.

The first few weeks of rehearsal – because I tend to overanalyze things – I participated, but I also held back and watched everyone else. I didn’t want to stick out. Then we started to get to know each other. We did exercises that made it clear that we all have been through similar things. You think that no one can understand what you’ve been through because they weren’t there, sitting next to you. When you finally let it out, and it’s not a surprise to them – because they’ve had the same experiences – it’s comforting and sad all at the same time, because you don’t want anyone else to have to live through those things.

I’ve never spoken to other people about being in foster care – they tend to give you the ‘I’m sorry’ look. Here, no one feels sorry for you because they’re in the same situation and all they want to do is get out of it and help you get out of it. So instead of sympathy, it’s like a sense of respect and understanding. When I sat in that room and found out that other people in the circle have felt lost, don’t know exactly who they are or where they’re going, it made me want to be there even more. It’s a big relief to be able to speak about what has happened in my home for so many years and to have someone understand.

The first night of our show, I was nervous that I would mess up because I’d never performed before. When you’re on stage and you’re telling your story, you want someone to hear it – you hope they take something away from it. I was trying to see the audience reacting, but it was hard to tell what they were thinking. After I did my second scene, I was watching my cast members acting out our stories, and it got really emotional. We knew whose stories were being told, and when it’s yours – when your friend gets up there and plays the role of your mother, it’s intense. But it felt safe, and important that these stories are heard.

This year, we adapted our play “Know+How=” into a screenplay. I mean, my cast was already close, but after sharing our stories with one another and then telling on stage and now in film, I’ll just say I’ve never grown this close to any group of people and I can’t imagine not knowing them now. They are my family – the Artistic Directors (Elizabeth & Paul) are like Mom and Dad, the Program Managers (Kelly & Lamar) are like Aunt and Uncle, and the cast are like brothers and sisters.

Before, when people would ask me about my future, I would say “yeah, when I had a future.” I had stopped going to school, and I was bored with life. Now, I realize I was holding myself back. I finally graduated high school, and I’m trying to get into college to study acting. I have a job and am looking for a better one. I’m ready to just move on. And with the support of my “family” and knowing that I’m capable and smart, I finally feel like I have a future and I’m ready for it to happen.”

Alumni Profile: ERICA ORTIZ (Saturday Cast, 2006-2008)

“I was 15, had recently moved back to Brooklyn from Pennsylvania and I was going through some really tough times. I was dealing with a mother who had Lupus, an absent father, a little brother with Aspergers Sydndrome, two older brothers that were too into their own worlds to care, and I was the glue trying to keep everyone together in spite of the obstacles preventing that. My family was stuck in a routine of anger and bitterness that I didn’t want to be a part of but did not know how to break out of. TPP came at a time when I needed a lifeline.

I had just transferred into a high school in Brooklyn, and one day at lunch someone was passing out fliers for The Possibility Project. I decided to take a chance with this program, thinking it was some kind of theatre group. I was in for quite a surprise when I got to the audition and the director started to explain the process. It sounded like someone heard my prayer and made a program just for me.

I fit into TPP with such an ease that previous cast members would make references to me as if I was on stage with them the previous year. I was asked to join the Production Team as a first year cast member to represent the new voices who also joined the program – of course I accepted. On Production Team, my leadership skills were really sharpened. I was with people who were serious about TPP. These members were my role models. Each person on that team went beyond what was expected and if we had an issue, it was addressed up front, even if we had to stay late discussing it.

Honestly, I don’t think I have ever had an experience to compare to my first year of TPP. I grew so much, I changed drastically for the better. In that year’s show, I was cast as a character that is nothing like me, who does something that hurts the people around her. It was hard to find the truth in that scene because all of us had to put ourselves in the shoes of these characters and really find what motivated their actions. However, we were telling the stories of several cast members. We had something to live up to. There was no room for dishonesty or disrespect in telling someone else’s life story. I am grateful that as a program, we refuse to tell a lie on stage.

There was so much support from directors and other cast members that helped through this whole process. We were creating a show from our own experiences revolving around injustices that we’ve gone through as homosexuals, as rape victims, as foster children, as females, as males, as teens essentially. It was empowering because the people in TPP didn’t dismiss what we had been through as youth. I felt heard for once. I felt like I mattered. I felt like change was not such a farfetched idea anymore.

Before, I had thought change was for people who didn’t have problems, privileged individuals who had a more choices in their lives. Because of TPP, I learned to accept my situation and find peace in the things I can’t change. I have a whole future ahead of me that is mine to make. It’s taken me years to finally understand the concept that I am in charge of my future but, TPP was there to help me with that. These people genuinely cared for me.

I have been out of the program for 4 years now and I still visit and volunteer my time when I can. It is refreshing and it serves as a reminder of all that I can accomplish. The process doesn’t stop when you leave the program, either; that is when it begins. TPP gave me all these tools and it is my responsibility to use them in my life. I could choose to not use them at all but that would defeat the whole purpose of the two years I spent in the program. Life after the program has only become more difficult because I am more aware of my potential. I feel obligated to work harder and not settle for anything less than my capabilities will allow. I often think of the most recurring lesson I learned in TPP, summed up in a line from a TPP show: “Life doesn’t get easier, we just get better at living it.” I have to remind myself of that every time I feel like something is too difficult.

I still keep in touch with alumni from my year and from the years before. We are an extended family. Although I cannot recreate the experience I had in the program, I apply everything that I have learned to my everyday life. I am thankful that I was able to experience TPP when I did. It has also inspired me to follow a dream of opening my own non-profit one day in my neighborhood in Brownsville. I’m all about spreading the love now – and I intend for my future to be about making other people’s futures a little better.”

Alumni Profile: GABRIELLE GARCIA (Foster Care Cast, 2009-2011)

“Walking into the Possibility Project audition in the spring of 2010, I didn’t know what to expect. I, literally, didn’t know what to expect because I wasn’t supposed to be there. I had been “well behaved” in my residential treatment center (an RTC), so they decided to let me go on a trip with the dance team to what they called an acting and dance program. I couldn’t act or dance so I really wasn’t at all interested. But I tagged along anyway because I needed to get away from the other twenty girls that I lived with in a small lock-down facility. Because I tagged along with the dance team to this audition, my life will never be the same.

I had been in a RTC for five months before I went to my audition. An RTC is the second highest “level of care” in the foster care system. According to my judge, my stay there would be therapeutic and when I left I would be a better person for it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Every day of my stay was just a different episode from the same sick, violent, twisted sitcom. The amount I fought before going in to the RTC increased and I became angrier than ever before. I wanted to go home but that wasn’t a better option. My mom is bipolar and our relationship had been strained since the day I figured out how to speak. I couldn’t see my future past the next day. I didn’t care about school, my friends or even my family. I couldn’t imagine surviving to my seventeenth birthday.

When I left the RTC in August of 2010, I had attended a few rehearsals, but that’s all. Now I had a choice to make. I could go back to hanging around with friends and not going to school or I could do something more productive with myself. I didn’t come back to the Possibility Project with this question in mind though. I was just bored. But I had been away for so long, I had lost contact with so many of the people I talked to there. When I called, to my surprise, Paul was excited to hear from me again and urged me to come back even though I had been away for so long.

I came into my first rehearsal after returning thinking this was only going to be temporary until I could find something better to do. What I didn’t expect to happen, happened. Everyone in the cast greeted me openly, and was sincerely interested in what I had been doing since I left. They looked genuinely happy that I was back. I was skeptical at first of everyone’s friendliness. The only person I ever fully trusted was my mother and she betrayed me. I thought I could never trust anyone again.

I have now been a part of the Possibility Project for two years and nothing has been more rewarding. I learned to trust people again. The people I’ve met from The Possibility Project have become my best friends whom I’d trust my life to. The people here have encouraged me to do my best in school. I’m finishing my senior year in high school with my GPA being a 3.7 from the time I started the Possibility Project. I’m looking at some of the best colleges in the country with hope. I can’t even remember the times when my future was a daunting black hole. My friends who knew me before even notice the difference in my demeanor. But I realized this person was always within me being suppressed by all the negative influences in my life. The Possibility Project helped me figure that out and figure out who I really am.”

Alumni Profile: RANDY LOPEZ (Saturday Cast, 2008-2011)

“I am just one of the many stories that The Possibility Project has changed. I joined in 2008 as a 13-year old, low self-esteemed boy who couldn’t quite figure out why he felt alone in the world. I never had a great relationship with my mother, let alone my father, so I had to grow up fast. I was over-weight, and was called fat, blob, slob, you name it. I would say I became sensitive to the point of over-emotional.

The Possibility Project became my safe haven. I was never alone and always helped, and was helped by, others. We give each other hope, the feeling that you will find a way over any obstacle and continue to strive to achieve greatness.

After all the exciting activities and education, I realize, more than anything else, that what I have is a family in The Possibility Project. It consists of more than 100 other teenagers from around the boroughs. They have taught me how to use the conflict resolution skills I had learned, that violence is the worst way to solve anything, that standing up and speaking out is necessary, and that nobody can live without friends in their lives. It led me to the sense that I am supported, empowered, and that I can achieve anything I want to do.

I have broken out of my shyness and isolation and become a leader. I am in my 3rd year and on the Production Team, the youth leadership of the program. I plan to go to Yale and study acting when I graduate. I am devoted to creating change because I know firsthand that we can create hope in the world.”

Alumni Profile: Jason Knox

“Usually after I’ve told someone about The Possibility Project, they ask me about what I learned. These people tend to expect very quantifiable responses, but a Possibility Project education isn’t exactly quantifiable. We were helped by the program in so many ways because what we learned were the fundamental skills that any young person growing up today now needs.

When I entered the program I already had a lot of Compassion, Vision, and Empathy, some said too much. You could say that I was “emotional”. What I lacked was Foresight, and Thought, Decisive Thinking and Planning, the ability to see the bigger picture – the things that lead to what I would call the feeling of empowerment.

Empowerment is a tricky concept. What do I mean when I say I lacked the feeling of empowerment? Honestly, I don’t know how to express it except by comparing myself at the beginning of the program and at the end.

At the beginning, I had a number of dreams. I wanted to act, and write films, and go to College in N.Y. When I graduated high school, I was 17, and I had been in The Possibility Project for a year. I had a 1.2 GPA. My mother was a single parent working two jobs. I wasn’t getting to college because we didn’t have the funds to send me, and I wasn’t getting accepted on account of my grades. The only thing I had I could really hang on to and be proud of was The Possibility Project. I knew what I had to do and I knew what I wanted to do, but I needed more time to take what I learned and use it.

In my 2nd year at The Possibility Project, I was on the Production Team. The Production Team is the youth leadership of the program. As a team member, I had to become a confidant, a mentor, and a leader through example. I was not only concerned with my own welfare but for the welfare of a cast. It was no longer about just me and my experiences; I had to look at the whole picture. People relied and counted on me. If I didn’t do my job right, people would be hurt. I was 17 years old when I got this responsibility. I had never before been in this type of position, and I won’t lie to you and say that I handled it flawlessly. I made many mistakes along with the rest of the Production Team, but what was so important was that the cast, and I, “got it” – we got that our unity as people was more important than our self-interest and that our self-interest was better served working with others. We got that race and gender and neighborhood and clothing styles and all of those meaningful divisions are not all that we are; that violence is the worst way to deal with anything; that resolving conflicts without violence is difficult and totally worth it every time; that standing up for what we believe in honestly is more satisfying than winning; that changing our lives and our cities and our world means we have to create a new way of seeing ourselves and each other; and that I could be a good friend and a proud person.

We came together, we successfully completed the first year and that meant we “got it” and had done our job right. When we finished that year, I felt that there was so much I could do. I had so much confidence in myself because I had, along with the rest of the Production Team, led the cast successfully through the program. Accomplishing that task gave me the confidence to do anything because working with a room full of very intelligent and emotionally charged teenagers is difficult for people with years of experience and training. I had had only one year in The Possibility Project.

I left City at Peace at 19. I started with dreams – by the end I had goals. The next year, I worked full time saving money. For two years I attended community college working up my GPA. If I didn’t have the grades or the money to go to college I was going to get them. I started at Frostburg State University at 20 and transferred out at 22 with a 3.63 GPA, ready to attend College in N.Y. Currently, I have finished my degree in Creative Writing at Brooklyn College and am working at a publishing house.

My story is just an example of what The Possibility Project does. Before I mentioned the fundamental skills that any teenager needs. I said how when I entered the program I possessed some of these skills but there were others I needed. Well it’s all of these skills that make the program so successful. Teaching these skills, Compassion, Empathy, Personal Responsibility and Accountability, Creativity, Leadership is how we take a room full of teenagers from the suburbs to the inner-city and everywhere in-between, from 20 or more different high schools and programs, from every possible background and forge them into a family. For me, that is what The Possibility Project is – a family beyond my own family that gave me a place to belong, the opportunity to figure myself out, the space to learn so much about other people, the motivation to make a difference, and the confidence to take my life and lead it.”

Alumni Profile: Karen Beckford

“In 2002, when I first moved from Jamaica to New York my life started going downhill. I went from a straight A student to wanting nothing for myself, cutting school, smoking and wanting to drop out. I started being promiscuous and it also played a major role in my life. I wanted to feel the love that everyone was talking about… the love that I couldn’t find, so I searched for it within a stranger’s arms because I was told ” I love you.” I was a 15 year old young lady with no sense of direction and nothing in life to be optimistic about.

In 2004 when I joined The Possibility Project, things started to make sense to me. At first it was bit scary – like I assume it was for most of my cast members because there I was in a room with about 70 kids that were strangers to me, that didn’t know anything about me but wanted to become my friends. Everyone was hugging greeting each other like it was a family reunion and I felt immediately welcomed. I knew I always wanted to sing, act and dance on stage but I wasn’t too interested in what was going on around me in the world. I felt like everything that happened was “the way it is” and that homophobia, racism and abuse were just a way of life. They were things that happened but no one spoke about. And I felt like if I did, then I wouldn’t be heard, because as a child I wasn’t allowed to leave a child’s place and take on an “adult role” which to me is becoming more aware about an issue and speaking about it.

During my first and second years in The Possibility Project I discovered skills that I never knew I had. For example, my leadership and writing skills. I started building meaningful relationships with my cast members and started to value my relationships with my family members. The first show I ever did was called “AlieNation.” Now, I am used to performing for people, but doing something with a purpose behind it was completely different from doing a Shakespeare play. It was real, it involved stories in my life that I wanted people to hear, stories that I wanted people to understand and to help me make a difference about. My cast members and I were talking to 500 or more people per night that listened to us and it felt great. By the end of my first year I slowly started to notice that my life was changing, especially in school. My new found friends discovered my feelings about school and wanted to help me graduate. I now stand as a High School graduate because of the support that I found at The Possibility Project. I was two years overdue but I did it, and I did it for myself and so my parents would be proud.

I can now say that I am proud of myself and even though it is unspoken I know my parents are too. My relationship with them is not 100% where I would want it to be but I feel the difference and everything takes time. Because of all that I have learned in The Possibility Project, and now practice with my parents, things are better. My mom told me one year ago for the first time that she loves me. I was shocked. It felt really good to hear those words from her. Words that I only imagined her saying. And that is how I know that if you can envision change it can happen – but it takes time and determination.

To everyone in The Possibility Project, I would like to say thank you. The Possibility Project has made such a big impact on my life by supporting me non-stop, listening and never giving up on me – and now I realize what they were talking about my first day of rehearsal when they told me “we are always here for you and we always will be”. The people of Possibility Project never stopped caring and listening. Now I have big plans for my future. I will be attending John Jay College to Major in Criminal Law and minor in theater – I plan to take over Paul’s job one day. (just kidding). I won’t give up and I know I have my past and present cast members along this journey with me. The Possibility Project ended for me, but I am confident that I have learned things that I can now take into the world and educate other people who didn’t get the chance to be part of an amazing program like The Possibility Project.”

Alumni Profile: Jessica LoMonaco

“When I first joined I was a freshman in high school and scrambling to figure out where I stood in this world or if I even had a place to stand here. Then, my future was fuzzy, I feared what tomorrow would be. Luckily, now I can say I wake up every morning and face it with hope and with the knowledge that change can and will happen. Although it took a very long time to actually understand, The Possibility Project is the reason I can. Looking back, I cannot help but see the hope that has grown in me. Hope for my generation, hope for my friends and hope for myself.

We started here in NY in 2001, a year when everything was falling apart and with our small cast, we bonded and learned to stand together rather than all falling down. From there, it was a learning process that could never fit into a textbook. The things I learned through The Possibility Project are all about human experience. It is seeing the injustice of the world and saying “that’s enough,” and learning how to do that together and how to create change, within ourselves and in the world around us. How to speak with one voice while still being a distinct individual.

I still consider myself lucky to know the people I have met through The Possibility Project. They were the people willing to give me the help and strength I needed to grow into who I am today. I will never take for granted the amount of support and love I have received, and how it has saved my life.

In the final show I performed in, R.I.P. Revolution In Progress, there was a line from a song that went “We must believe the world can change, but first we must start with us.” This line haunted me because I believed I had no chance to create change. I had just finally come to terms with having hope in the people around me, but not in myself. I could not see what was happening around me, I could not see the huge steps being taken by my friends to create change and the role I had been playing in it. Who were we to teach something we did not do? Who was I to believe in something I could not bring myself to do? And each time I got like this, the person next to me would grab my hand. Half of the time I did not know who it was and sometimes I doubt they ever looked up from their performance to see who it was that was sobbing and whose voice was cracking next to them. It was in those moments I knew I was not alone. I believed in my friends and because they believed in me I could believe in myself. It was their faith that gave me the confidence to stand up and take my destiny into my own hands.

Finally, after years of haziness I can be the strong person everyone wanted to see, the only thing is that my definition of “strong” has changed. While it means not buckling under pressure, it also means being sensitive, being compassionate and caring for people as much as you want them to care about you. It means being able to forgive but not forget what has been done to you. It means giving amnesty to people, and having the will to want to move on. It means having confidence, having the ability to cry, laugh and just be in this world, living and loving. I am proud to say that because of my definition, I have changed at least my family and some of my friends. If I did not have The Possibility Project to support me as I created this self-definition, I would have remained the same person I was.

Now at the young age of 21, looking back at that 13-year-old little girl I once was, it baffles me that I have managed to evolve into the “woman” I am. I have graduated high school, which no one really believed I would do and even managed to do it a year early. I graduated recently from college. I have been able to overcome the worst words to hear: “Get a new dream, you don’t have the look to act.” Well, since then I am proud to say I have been in 5 Off-Broadway shows with The Possibility Project , have worked on two films and on multiple other theater projects. I have grown and know how to be responsible for myself and support myself. But after all of this, it is the emotional things that matter, the things that we learn and survive together. It is what I was fortunate enough to live through in The Possibility Project that really counts.

It is surviving and being able to say to everyone that you never let someone tell you that you cannot achieve a dream and never doubt that someone else can achieve theirs. Know that you have love and support where you least expect it, and finally, just believe. Plain and simple: Believe.”

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