Meet Our First Vivian E. Cook Scholarship Honoree!

Q&A with Latoya Mann, graduate of August Martin High School

Scholarship recipient Latoya Mann with Assemblywoman Vivian Cook

At The Child Center of NY, one of our firmest beliefs is that intelligence and drive are evenly distributed among zip codes. Unfortunately, opportunity isn’t always. That’s why we’ve been hard at work at August Martin High School, in one of the most underserved communities in the city. In the past few years, we’ve helped increase the graduation rate by nearly 40 percent — from just 24 percent to more than 60 percent — and are ensuring promising students not only can see themselves at college, but also can overcome the practical hurdles (like the steep price tag) to getting there.

To help achieve that aim, we’ve established the Assembly Member Vivian E. Cook Scholarship Fund, named for a leader who has worked closely with The Child Center for decades to better the lives of youth and families in Southeast Queens.

The scholarship provides a student of color graduating from a public high school in Southeast Queens with $1,500 to pay for books, a computer, or other educational needs.

“This has been a year of considerable focus for The Child Center of NY in how we apply our resources,” explains Deep Ghosh, The Child Center’s vice president of external affairs and community engagement. “Shifts toward applying greater resources toward students at risk of dropping out of school became an essential focus to tackling the growing number of disconnected youth in the community surrounding August Martin High School.”

At the same time, Ghosh says, it became equally evident that we should highlight the successes: “Sometimes when you focus more closely on those at risk, you can forget to reward those students who are striving to succeed and overcoming the challenges of getting to the finish line. So when we got an honorarium from ExpandEd for some work I did, [Child Center CEO] Traci [Donnelly] and I agreed that a scholarship for students coming out of August Martin High School would be a wonderful way to support the agency’s mission. What better way to show that we will help you not only get into college, but also be able to actually go? Have you seen the price of a college textbook these days?”

The first awardee is Latoya Mann, a recent graduate of August Martin High School and a longtime member of The Child Center of NY family. She began her college career at the City University of New York’s York College last month.

Assemblywoman Cook was delighted to learn of the scholarship created in her name. “There are many opportunities for our young folks to grow and be successful,” the Assemblywoman told us. “With a little help and encouragement, through scholarships like this one, we can create new opportunities for our community and our residents to prosper. I hope to see Ms. Mann blossom in the future years and that she uses this scholarship well.”

We caught up with Mann before she left for school to find out more about this promising young woman.

The Child Center of NY: Congratulations on being awarded with the inaugural Vivian E. Cook Scholarship! You have said that you feel like a true member of The Child Center of NY family. What do you mean by that?

Latoya Mann: The Child Center has been a part of my life for almost as long as I can remember! And at every stage, it’s had a profound impact on me.

When I was 7, my mother enrolled me in my first afterschool program, Beacon at M.S. 226. During my time there, I was given many leadership roles in and out of the classroom, which helped me to mature at a faster pace.

One of the most important was the opportunity to join the Ozone Step Team at the age of 11. Being the youngest on the team, many participants and friends looked up to me and supported me, which meant so much to me. While on the team, I learned many skills that I know will help me throughout my life, such as relationship building and collaboration. Being on the team also helped me build my self-confidence.

From 12-15 years old I volunteered at Beacon  M.S. 226 and COMPASS P.S. 273 as an office aide, where I provided assistance to the management team as well as group leaders. The following year, I was given the chance to work as a group leader for COMPASS 273, where I was able to enhance my time management and accountability skills, as well as build my independence.

The Child Center:  You’ve emphasized the importance of mentors in your life. Can you tell us about one of them?

LM: I met [COMPASS Program Supervisor] Saher Mahmood in my time as a participant, and she has changed my life! She is the reason that I am the person I am today. I am so proud to have her as a mentor. There’s no way that I can explain the impact she had made on me; it always leaves me speechless because sometimes I can’t believe how far I’ve come because of her! I am happy that I am able to still have her as a mentor to this day. Saher has not only been a mentor to me, but also a coach while I was a part of the Ozone Step Team, and lastly my supervisor.

In my time knowing Saher Mahmood, she has taught me to be optimistic and humble through all situations. Day by day, Saher always took time out to instill things in me like the importance of giving back and building relationships with people. Saher has also helped me in learning to manage my emotions and build better communication skills. Something that I still live by today that Saher has always told me is, “Live your life to the fullest and allow your experiences to make you stronger, not weak.” Keeping these things in the back of my head has always been a plus for me, and makes it easier getting through the day.

The Child Center:  You must be excited to start your college career at York! Did you always know you wanted to attend college? What do you plan to study there?

LM:  With the skills I learned while being a part of The Child Center of NY programs, I knew college was a must for me to continue to grow. However, I was never able to figure out what path I wanted to take and what I wanted to become. Being that I love to help people, it’s hard to just narrow it down to one thing. I want to do all! I’m not someone who is quick to give up; I love being challenged. Some courses of study I’m considering are pharmacy, anesthesiology, psychology, education, and business administration.

That said, I am willing to try any path in hopes to learn and be able to find something perfect for me. College will provide me with that chance to make mistakes and learn.

The Child Center:  How did you feel when you learned you would receive the first Assembly Member Vivian E. Cook Scholarship?

 LM:  I was so humbled and overcome with emotion! This scholarship is extremely important to me for so many reasons. Receiving this scholarship brought a slight relief to the college process. I knew that I would go to college but it was just so difficult for me. Being that I’ve been working towards just graduating high school, my focus was not on college; I thought I would have to start college in the spring. However, with receiving this scholarship I am able to attend college in the fall, which I am grateful for. It means so much knowing that everything that I have been doing behind closed doors isn’t going unnoticed. I’ve never been big on receiving recognition for my accomplishments, but just knowing that there are people who are always there to support me in anything I want to do… that goes beyond measure.

Editor’s Note: When we told Latoya’s mentor, Saher Mahmood, about what Latoya had to say about the profound influence she’s had on Latoya’s life, Mahmood had this to say:

“I have experienced an abundance of triumphs in my career with The Child Center of NY thus far, but hearing the exciting news of Latoya Mann being the recipient of our first Vivian Cook Scholarship is a special kind of triumph. Latoya and I have shared a beautiful journey in youth development for a decade now, and I have had the honor of playing a role in and witnessing her growth and self-discovery as she flourishes into an incredible positive agent of change. I am immeasurably proud of Latoya and her successes, looking forward to continuing to support and mentor her as her future unfolds. Society is lucky to have her!”

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