Tonya Ingram

Daily Point of Light # 4441 Feb 14, 2011

My name is Tonya Ingram and I'm 18 years old. I grew up in a housing development in the Bronx. My haven was the bedroom I shared with my two younger brothers. It was small and it was crowded, but it was safe. My bedroom was my world and it was enough for me. This all changed when I was twelve. I learned about a Saturday program called Read to Me; it was run by New York Cares, an affiliate of HandsOn Network, at our local community center. That morning, the volunteers walked us to the library where I got my first library card. We spent the afternoon reading together. I felt insecure until I noticed that other kids struggled with their reading, too. They tripped over the big words just like me, but it didn't seem to matter. The New York Cares volunteers were kind and patient. Through the stories we read, my world began to expand and soon, my bedroom in the Bronx felt too small. I wanted more opportunities, and I still do. By the time I was a junior in high school, I had my hopes set on being the first person in my family to go to college. But there were lots of barriers. Once again, New York Cares was there for me. I applied and was accepted into their SAT Prep program, and for a full school year, I worked with a dedicated team of volunteers getting ready for the exam. Every week, they'd drill me on reading comprehension, vocabulary, and the dreaded geometry. I walked into that test feeling like I owned it, and sure enough, my scores improved. I started learning about schools like Sarah Lawrence, Emory, and Bates, and I became familiar with what is now my favorite word, “scholarship.” With the encouragement of my volunteer mentors, I applied to 13 colleges and got into 11. I am now in my sophomore year at NYU. I may have three more years to go but I've already had one graduation: I've become a New York Cares volunteer myself, cheering kids on at the same Read to Me project that opened so many doors for me. I've come a long way from the shy girl who wouldn't leave her bedroom. I can't believe how my life has unfolded. When I look back and connect the dots, I see that New York Cares was there for me the whole time, expanding my horizons and pushing me to succeed. I still keep in touch with the volunteers who supported me over the years. I consider them my mentors and my friends. Thanks to my mentors and to New York Cares, I think I can do anything. I really do."

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