Once upon a time, Ruth Rathblott had a rude awakening. She was working in a very dangerous Massachusetts neighborhood with young teenage girls who told her they wanted to get pregnant. Ruth tried to dissuade them saying, “You’re too young to have a baby. You can’t do that. You have your future.”
Their comeback was shocking. “You don’t understand,” they said. “We’re not going to live past 18, so we want someone who’s going to carry our name and remember us.”
For Ruth, that moment cemented her own future around the question, ‘How do you create a future for kids who don’t think they have one? Today she has found an answer.
Ruth is the CEO of Harlem Educational Activities Fund or HEAF.
Founded in 1989, HEAF has a long term vision to help high-potential but underserved public school students in New York City to become high-achieving college graduates.
“My goal is to create a college-going culture for all, where choosing your education is just as important and celebrated as choosing your draft team for the NFL,” says Ruth.
And when Ruth sets a goal, she means it. Running the New York City Marathon, she vowed to break the five hour mark. She crossed the finish line in four hours, 56 minutes and 24 seconds
Now her goal is to convince HEAF students that, with hard work, opportunity and commitment to a good education, they can have an exciting and rewarding future.
“College is the rule. Students, literally from the minute they walk onto HEAF, know that college is something they’re going to achieve and HEAF is going to provide the tools on how they’re going to get there.”
HEAF is a free program that works with students beginning in sixth grade with afterschool, weekend and summer classes -- focused on rigorous academics and leadership skills – and stays with them through college graduation.
It’s a ten year investment with impressive results.
While only about 61 percent of New York City students graduate from high school, fully 100 percent of HEAF students graduate and enroll in college, 83 percent finish college and more than one-third go on to earn graduate degrees.
450 students participate in the program each year.
“We’re focused on students who are often overlooked in school, the middle range of students.”
Ruth is sure that what students gain from HEAF will translate into professional and economic success, as well. Companies will recruit them, she believes, because of their intellectual capacity, commitment to hard work, leadership, and teamwork.
“Our dream is that one day...students will no longer feel discouraged that their opportunities are limited.”