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Putting a Career on Hold to Help Kids Cope

A recent North­eastern Uni­ver­sity grad­uate chose to defer his admis­sion to sev­eral top law schools, choosing instead to spend the year launching an ambi­tious non­profit orga­ni­za­tion that will pro­vide prac­tical life skills and emo­tional sta­bility to foster youths in Boston.

Mar­quis Cabrera, who grew up in a drug– and poverty-​​stricken neigh­bor­hood in Harlem, N.Y., was in foster care from 1996 through 2003, when he was adopted by a couple in the upstate com­mu­nity of Scotch­town. Now, Cabrera is trying to improve the lives of foster chil­dren here in Boston.

“When you’re in foster care, it’s really easy to get dis­con­nected — from school, from your peers, from life,” Cabrera said.

To help encourage and sup­port foster chil­dren from Boston, Cabrera founded Foster Skills, Inc., which this fall will wel­come its first class of stu­dents, who will stick with the orga­ni­za­tion from high school through college.

According to a University of Chicago study, less than 10 per­cent of chil­dren who go through the foster care system grad­uate from col­lege. Yet Cabrera per­se­vered, grad­u­ating magna cum laude from North­eastern Uni­ver­sity this May.

Cabrera orig­i­nally decided to attend North­eastern Uni­ver­sity because of its co-​​op pro­gram. He worked co-​​op jobs at City Year, where he was involved in man­aging the national hiring process; and at the White House, where he was the first intern from North­eastern in the chief of staff’s office, working under Rahm Emanuel.

His final co-​​op was split between the Mass­a­chu­setts Court of Appeals, where he was paired with an at-​​risk youth who court offi­cials hoped could ben­efit from a mentor like Cabrera, and CSN Stores, where he worked as a con­sul­tant helping to drive com­pany rev­enue and assisted the vice pres­i­dent of cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions in writing tra­di­tional and non­tra­di­tional media pitches.

Cabrera met daily with the youth for lunch or simply a walk to offer sup­port and guid­ance. It was a crit­ical time for the teenager, who was strug­gling to cope after just having learned he was aban­doned as an infant and later adopted. “We talked about the feel­ings of being left in the dark and how that feels, and I worked to nor­malize those feel­ings,” Cabrera said.

Foster Skills has gar­nered the atten­tion of national polit­ical leaders, For­tune 100 busi­ness exec­u­tives, and non­profit orga­ni­za­tions that have reached out to Cabrera to form part­ner­ships with his new orga­ni­za­tion. With the help of North­eastern grad­u­ates armed with a wealth of expe­ri­ence from their co-​​ops at top finance, accounting, design and tax firms; and with guid­ance from fac­ulty advi­sors, Cabrera said Foster Skills will help Boston’s foster youth achieve life success.

“North­eastern Uni­ver­sity pro­vided me sup­port sys­tems and a bat­tery of people who chal­lenged me to suc­ceed,” Cabrera said. “More impor­tantly, North­eastern has given me access to com­pletely new social struc­tures, which in turn has enabled me to put together a rock-​​star staff and advi­sory board.”

– by Matt Collette

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