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Local heroes of 2011

Simon Moore and Linda Katz
NO LIMITS Moore helps students "expand their access to everything."

In the 14th annual edition of the Providence Phoenix's Best issue, we highlight people and organizations who are doing exceptionally good work — local heroes who often labor behind the scenes, but are changing their communities for the better. Whatever neighborhoods we live in, we are all in their debt.

Opening the door to the future

The story of Janelle Williams is an all-too familiar one: a bright, young woman perfectly capable of going to college, but like so many of her friends, she couldn't help but feel like the deck was stacked against her. She was shut-off-the-gas-poor, attending an underperforming high school ("it sure isn't Classical") and despite living in a crowded household, she had no one she could really turn to for advice.

And then she came to College Visions, the seven-year-old advising program founded by Simon Moore that helps low-income and first-generation college-bound students navigate the treacherous waters of the college application process, from selecting the right schools, to filling out the dreaded financial aid forms, to making the final decision.

Moore grew up in Providence (he went to Classical and played basketball for a year at Brown) and other than the couple of years he spent working in Harlem and the Bronx, "I haven't gone outside of a two-mile radius."

He started College Visions because he saw a clear void when it comes to college advising in Providence public schools. Most schools don't have someone focusing solely on those who need help applying and guidance counselors simply don't have the capacity to meet with students more than a handful of times during their junior and senior years.

That's where College Visions comes in. Funded through private sponsorships and the AmeriCorps VISTA program, the nonprofit's full-time staff of five recruits students for its College Access Program during their junior year. The program is completely free for the students, who meet one-on-one with their adviser every couple of weeks (often much more) to discuss taking the SAT or ACT, filling out applications, writing the essay, and understanding financial aid packages.

It's not all fluffy "you can be whatever you want" or "we'll find a way to pay for it" advising either. As one struggling statistics student found out, staffers have no problem giving it to you straight.

"You need to make a decision," an adviser told the student. "You need to pick a day every week to get extra help. Colleges don't like Ds."

It's that level of honesty and open dialogue that had a half-dozen or so students hanging out in the College Visions office in the Mercantile Block Building on Washington Street well after 6 pm on the Friday night before April vacation. They trust Moore. They trust the staff. They trust the process.

"I wasn't thinking about college at all," Janelle said as she sat in a room lined with school pennants sent in as gifts from College Visions alumni. "I didn't even want to apply. I didn't have any money. But then I started meeting with my adviser here. Now I'm going to show my little brothers they can do it too."

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  Topics: Lifestyle Features , Education, Taxes, Higher Education,  More more >
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