As a transplant from Ghana seeking educational opportunity, Gloria had trouble navigating the college application process on her own. Enter Site Coordinator Xaila Lewis, who helped Gloria get accepted into 13 universities.
Ghana is a country where there are few opportunities for women to receive a formal education. So when 17-year-old Gloria Boateng decided to pursue a career in medicine, she knew that she would have to go beyond the African nation’s borders to make her dream a reality. Fiercely determined to succeed and exceptionally bright, Gloria left Ghana and enrolled in Rainier Beach High School all the way in Seattle, Wash.
Even though she was still learning English and had never been in a classroom, Gloria took advanced classes and was committed to graduating as quickly as possible. But when her family refused to help her navigate the college application process, she turned to Communities In Schools of Seattle. In Site Coordinator Xaila Lewis, Gloria found someone equally committed to her dream and determined to help her graduate.
“She’s such a role model. Sometimes I call her my sister,” Gloria said. “She is one of the people who has contributed the most to my success.” Lewis’ dedication to helping students like Gloria fulfill their greatest potential is what led her to receiving an Unsung Heroes Award from Communities In Schools. She is one of six people to earn the award in 2011.
The Unsung Heroes Award is given each year to Communities In Schools employees who demonstrate high levels of commitment, accountability, persistence, coordination and a dedication to equality.
“I’m so glad she won an award because she’s so good at discovering needs and creating a plan of attack,” said Danna Johnston. Johnston is the founder of local nonprofit The Danna K. Johnston Foundation, which provides mentoring services. Since 2008, the organization has been a community partner at Rainier Beach.
When Gloria visited Rainier Beach’s career center looking for help, Lewis knew she was special.
“Anyone that meets Gloria would want to support her because she has great goals and you just want her to succeed,” the site coordinator said. “She’s very gregarious. Gloria would share with me different things she was experiencing, and I helped her navigate the high school system in order to graduate.”
The site coordinator is known for organizing multitudes of community partners to provide different academic and post-secondary programs, including college and career fairs and mentoring groups.
“She realizes that for a nonprofit to work with a school, there are a lot of extra hoops you need to jump through.” Johnston said about Lewis. “Her ability to make the connections between the community and the school system has allowed for some really amazing changes at Rainier Beach.”
Lewis worked to provide Gloria with the resources she needed to graduate and get through the college application process. But most importantly, Lewis introduced Gloria to Johnston. Lewis knew that the student would be a perfect fit for one of The Danna K. Johnston Foundation’s programs, called “Successful Youth.” A group of people—students, mentors and community leaders— meet regularly to participate in confidence-building activities and discuss the role of women in the fields of science and technology.
Through Successful Youth, Gloria and Johnston grew close. And when the student’s family was unable to support her dreams, Johnston stepped in as her mentor.
“Most of the time, we as human beings think we can do everything on our own. I’m that kind of person, in that I try not to rely on anyone,” Gloria said. “But Danna Johnston changed that in me. She’s so hardworking and inspirational.”
Lewis credits Johnston with providing Gloria with a stable, caring relationship.
“It helped her to be matched up with a mentor,” the site coordinator said, “someone to act as a family member when she wasn’t getting any support from home.”
By providing Gloria with a mentor with a comparable attitude and spirit and community resources, Lewis was able to help her achieve greatness. She graduated from Rainier Beach High School in only three years, and was accepted to all 13 colleges and universities to which she applied.
Gloria’s eyes are still on the prize. The 21-year-old sophomore at the University of Washington is majoring in medical technology.
“With hard work and perseverance, I will become a doctor and work in Ghana.”
She remains a fiercely focused and independent young woman, but is grateful for the support Lewis provided in her time of need.
“The one word to describe Xaila Lewis is ‘successful,’” Gloria said. “She’s determined to get what she wants for the school. And she gets what she wants, regardless of the challenges.”