“Bridge to Success” for Disadvantaged Youths

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By Lisa Chen

Tucked away behind a modest storefront on Amsterdam Avenue, between 83rd and 84th streets, lies the DOME Project. Founded in 1973 as an alternative education program for youths who had fallen through the cracks at their school, DOME, which stands for Developing Opportunities through Meaningful Education, helps students find success through education. It is currently seeking community volunteers to contribute as speakers and instructors, and to mentor the youth that they work with.

“DOME is unique because rather than seeking out kids who are already on the path to success, it looks for diamonds in the rough: kids who have had problems with schools or have been involved in the court system,” said Julio Peterson, a DOME alumnus and vice-chair of the Board of Directors.

Alumni of the DOME Project at a June 19 reunion party at Riverside Park.

Alumni of the DOME Project at a June 19 reunion party at Riverside Park. Photo by Andrew Schwartz.

The group’s “Bridge to Success” program offers counseling, court advocacy and job preparation to about 100 at-risk youth and juvenile offenders. The court-mandated program refers youths to DOME, which teaches practical skills like resumé building and budgeting.

“It takes $260,000 to incarcerate one youth for one year, and that crime is usually a misdemeanor,” said executive director Martin Caba. “Our entire program costs only a little more than twice that amount. Socially and economically, it makes sense to rehabilitate rather than incarcerate youths.”

DOME programs also include personalized academic tutoring and college prep. The College Prep program, which operates at Louis D. Brandeis High School, works with the school’s college counseling office to help advise students. Since the program began two years ago, the school has sent 180 students to college or universities, and its students have acquired up to $2 million in scholarships annually.

DOME staff said that a lack of exposure to learning possibilities is a major impediment to the success of disadvantaged youths.

“I don’t see myself as very different from the kids. Without guidance, that would have been my life,” said Caba.

“We’re exposing them to possibilities beyond what they see, and making those possibilities less daunting,” college coordinator David Leventhal said.

DOME serves about 350 disadvantaged youths each year from all over the city. The group prides itself on the diversity of its youths and the diversity of its staff members, who hail from different backgrounds and experiences.

“We want to teach the youths that success and support don’t come in one color,” Caba said. “The interactions that they experience here are reflective of the real world that they’ll be eventually heading toward.”

For more information about volunteering, visit domeproject.org.

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