Every day, Lidia Zayas heads into work and vows to change the lives of dozens of students in the Boston area. She and her team at the Red Sox Foundation walk hand-in-hand with each student, fulfilling the promise of the foundation’s college success program; “To empower Boston’s youth to pursue their goals to, through and beyond college by providing mentorship and access to academic, professional and social opportunity.”
Each year, the Red Sox Scholars program—managed by the Red Sox Foundation—identifies 12 Boston Public School seventh graders. There are hundreds of applicants, but as Brad Schoonmaker, Director of the Red Sox Foundation, tells UNRIVALED, “We make it a tough process because we want to really select students that are showing us a commitment.”
Those chosen for the program each year are promised a $10,000 scholarship for college. They’re chosen not just based on their GPA, but what Zayas calls, “the full picture.” Are they helping to take care of siblings or hold down a job? Are there things that might affect their schooling, but which they’re working to overcome?
But it’s more than just a monetary package. The Scholars program—one of the few in sports that is actually run by the teams foundation as opposed to granting funds to an external non-profit to do the work—is there to assist each student on the path to college.
Field trips to corporate partners, like BioGen and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center—along with mentoring—help students choose a career path. Access to FASFA advisors and SAT prep tutors are provided. And more than anything, a support system to help carry them to and through college is a guarantee.
It’s a cause close to Zayas’ heart, and why she turned a passion into a career.
“I am myself a Red Sox scholar. I was selected into the program when I was a fifth grader in 2004. I like to think that because of me, we won the World Series that year,” she jokes.
“So for me it was kind of like a dream come true and being the first in my family to go to college, and also graduate. It was just also having the promise of like, having a family behind me; it was just like an extra team that, when I couldn’t go to my parents to have something—whether it’s something as small as considering college tours—I had that Red Sox Foundation and scholar family behind me.”
The Scholars Program was one of the first initiatives created by the Red Sox Foundation in 2002, when new ownership took over the club.
“It was a commitment then to Boston’s youth, to ensure that we could be an advocate, and an ally in their pursuit of higher education and really make sure that we were ingrained in the educational landscape here in Boston,” explains Schoonmaker.
The program now boasts 350 scholars and alums. But after realizing the college graduation rate in the program wasn’t where it should be, the focus shifted from getting students to college, to actually getting them through college. As such, the college graduation rate for the program has jumped from 50% in 2018, to what will end up being 72% in 2021.
So every day, when Zayas heads into work, it’s with purpose but also gratitude.
“It’s been very full circle to now run the program and help different scholars and help select them…it’s just been a very rewarding process.”
As Schoonmaker states, “We’re literally changing the trajectory of seventh graders lives.”