Lena Marie always dreamt of curtain calls, standing ovations and appearances on the red carpet.
But how does a girl from the South Bronx find her way to the stages and sets of her dreams? Education is one way, and Lena Marie is on that road now thanks to a college scholarship she earned through The Children’s Aid Society’s EXCEL (Educational eXcellence Creating Empowered Leaders) program.
Her journey from eighth grader at Children’s Aid’s Community School I.S. 98 who liked to perform in school plays to theater major at one of the nation’s premier arts universities, NYU, is still shocking even to her. “I had dreams of being an actress,” Lena Marie, 18, says. “But I didn’t really see myself going to college.”
She was intrigued by the challenges and rewards presented by EXCEL. She went on to Bronx High School for Performance and Stagecraft and kept her grades up, attaining an ‘A’ average. Through EXCEL she took classes on money management, public service and the value of teamwork. The program provided a financial reward as she reached specific milestones.
“Regular EXCEL meetings really encouraged me to keep on track in high school,” she says. “It gave me something to look forward to.”
When the time came to apply to college, she tried for early admission at New York University and Emerson College. She was accepted into both schools’ theater programs and today attends NYU on a full scholarship.
“I feel like the EXCEL program gave me an extensive background into the whole process of getting into college that a lot of people in my high school didn’t receive,” she says.
Currently a junior, Lena Marie is still pursuing acting. But she is taking advantage of all NYU has to offer by exploring other interests: namely, women’s health. She admits to being fascinated by Children’s Aid’s commitment to educating people in challenged neighborhoods such as the one she grew up in. “I’m discovering that I like giving back to my community,” Lena Marie says.
“I haven’t had a lot of opportunities, but The Children’s Aid Society has been one opportunity I’ve been blessed to have.”