People, Opportunities and Education
At 14 years old, Casper Lassiter was at a crossroads in his life. The lure of drugs and risky sexual behavior lurked everywhere in his Harlem neighborhood. But fortunately for Casper, he had The Children’s Aid Society.
“The crack epidemic had such an impact on us, on the families,” says Casper. “To come out of that era focused and, in some cases, alive, is a tremendous accomplishment. Children’s Aid kept me focused.”
One of the most important experiences Casper had as a youth was Children's Aid's sex education program taught by Dr. Carrera at the Dunlevy Milbank Center. “We were learning about condoms,” he says. “We were learning about STDs. The whole AIDS scare was not a big thing in the ‘80s, and kids our age were out there doing some stuff. The program gave us an opportunity to think twice.”
The Children’s Aid Society/Carrera program, taught by founder/director Dr. Michael Carrera and others, had another benefit: it gave Casper a taste of what college would be like. And the Job Club component gave him a respectable way to earn a paycheck, while giving him another opportunity to see the world outside of Harlem. He spent his summers working at JP Morgan, the financial services firm, and at Hunter College. “The idea of going to college got embedded in my head at any early age,” he says.
Casper went on to attend Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Penn. He started school with the intentions of earning a business degree and someday joining the Wall Street establishment. But then he took a sociology class and realized he had a different calling. Upon graduation he was offered and accepted a job as a caseworker with Children’s Aid’s Carmel Hill Project. He later earned his master’s degree in social work from Hunter College, then went on to direct The Drew Hamilton Center and today is the Director of the Dunlevy Milbank Center.
His job allows him to fulfill his goal of helping children learn that there is a world beyond their own experiences, and that they have the power to improve their circumstances. His accomplishments include establishing a mentoring program for young men and a high-tech learning center at Dunlevy Milbank, as well as being named 2007 Boys and Girls Club Northeast Regional Youth Development Professional of the Year.
“The kids are what inspire me,” Casper says. “They keep me focused and they keep me engaged.”