Monday, November 26, 2012

Succeeding in Education, Business & Life

Academy Students Benefit from Capital One Partnership

Nine Academy of Hope students got quite a unique educational opportunity as they traveled to the regional headquarters of Capital One Bank in McLean, VA.  The students spent the day as part of Capital One’s One Week volunteer initiative. The goal of this initiative for Capital One Bank is to bring together the time and talents of their associates to help address the community’s needs and make a big impact over seven days.

Naomi Smouha, Community Relations Manager, Capital One said the Academy of Hope proposal was selected based on the uniqueness on their request.  “We were so excited to see the creativity involved in their concept: to bring AOH’s learners to our facility and engage them with our associates in an intimate conversation about the ins and outs of IT positions, working in a corporation and allowing Capital One employees to provide the students guidance.”

From the outset it was obvious that the Capital One staff was committed to creating a partnership with the Academy of Hope students.  They built a comprehensive agenda for the students that included an in-depth discussion of the corporate culture of Capital One, a tour of the facility, and freely answered questions about their own professional experiences that lead them to their current positions at Capital One.  AOH students were given the opportunity to shadow Capital One staffers and sat in on conference calls and participated in meetings that gave them a real-life glimpse of the leadership and teamwork of a successful business.  Capital One staffers patiently gave information breakdowns that allowed the students to fully engage in the process.

The diligence and thoughtful attention of the Academy of Hope students was noted by many Capital One staffers.  “I was really impressed with how much drive all of the students had as it pertained to the next steps in their career,” noted Naomi Smouha.  “Whether they were entering the tech field for the first time, or were learning new skills to enhance their work experience, they asked thoughtful, important questions about how to ensure their success in the workplace.”

One of the most popular segments of the day was the question and answer session between the AOH students and the staff at Capital One.  Students were given advice on job hunting, networking, knowing the culture of the company and using whatever tools they needed to get past their own limitations.

Each of the AOH students were impressed by how accommodating the staff at Capital One were to them and mentioned that they felt that they were addressing each of them as individuals and not just as a group.  Belinda Josie, an Academy of Hope student commented on the specifics of  what she learned at her visit.  “It was so helpful to learn what companies are looking for.  The phone interview is a new experience for me and I know now that I really need to prepare, to practice and be prepared for a wide variety of questions.”

As the day came to a close Daquanna Harrison-Ashton, Director of Secondary and Post-Secondary Education at AOH, recounted the lively conversations the students were having about how excited they were to share their experiences at Capital One with others in their lives.  “I cannot stress how important it is for our students to recognize that they are leaders in their communities and have the power to share knowledge and information.  Events like this help our students to find their voice and learning to use those voices is just as important as giving them these types of experiences,” said Harrison-Ashton.

Angela Douglas also an Academy of Hope student related her visit to Capital One with a class that she is taking through the Academy that discusses how to succeed in education, business and life.  “One of the things our class taught us is that life is richer when you are giving to and receiving from others.  The employees at Capital One really demonstrated how important it is to have an interactive team approach to achieve a success that is shared by all.”

--Trish Moreis-Stiles, Academy of Hope Volunteer Writer

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Adult Learner Story

The American Institutes for Research highlights adult learners from Academy of Hope and the Carlos Rosario School to raise awareness about the struggles and triumphs faced by these non-traditional students.

This video features Academy of Hope Executive Director, Lecester Johnson, two Academy of Hope learners, Carlita and Karisma, and one Academy of Hope graduate, Kenneth. Want more stories of Academy of Hope learners and their successes? Check out our Fall 2012 newsletter here.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Mayor Gray Proclaims Sept. 10-16 as Adult Education and Fam. Literacy Week in DC!

Click here to view the full Proclamation.

Text of the Proclamation as follows:

September 10 - 16, 2012

WHEREAS, the District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) recognizes the need for a highly literate citizenry to be successful in today's world that is driven by technological advancements; and

WHEREAS, one-fifth of the District's adult's need basic literacy skills and secondary school credentials to meet their academic, career and personal goals; and

WHEREAS, OSSE sub-grantees and other providers offer adult education, ancillary, postsecondary education and workforce transition services to District residents so that they may earn a high school diploma or GED, pursue job training or postsecondary education, and enter or retain employment to earn a sustainable wage and attain self-sufficiency:

NOW, THEREFORE, I, THE MAYOR OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, do hereby proclaim September 10 - 16, 2012 as "ADULT EDUCATION AND FAMILY LITERACY WEEK" in Washington, DC, and call upon all the residents of this great city to join me in encouraging our citizens to learn more about the importance of literacy and become involved in programs with learners and literacy programs in our community. 

Vincent C. Gray

Monday, August 27, 2012

Academy of Hope on WUSA9 Hero Central

Academy of Hope featured on WUSA9 Hero Central Segment hosted by JC Hayward

Original air date: Monday 8/27/2012

Written by Elizabeth Jia


WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA) --- The average person without a high school diploma earns $451 a week, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Adults in the District who want to earn their GED or prepare for college have a place to turn. 

Academy of Hope  is a non-profit adult learning center serving about 800 students. Students pay $30 dollars a semester, or volunteer in exchange for enrollment.

"I was working two jobs, 60 hours a week. Yet I still didn't make enough to support four children."  Darnetta Hollis, 29,  needs a higher paying job, but she needs to finish school first.  Hollis left school in the 11th grade when she became pregnant. But now she is able to return to classes at Academy of Hope.

"You don't want to be a hypocrite to your children. If you're telling them to finish school and go to college, you need to do the same," Hollis said.  Since 2008 Hollis has been coming to the adult learning center, part-time. She wants to concentrate on Hospitality Management at CCDC.  Her long-term goal: to earn a Master's degree within the next six years. The Academy of Hope gives her the confidence to achieve. 

View the full segment here:

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

‘This is the beginning, not the end’

Before Thursday, June 14, Angela B. was the only one of her mother’s nine children not to have graduated from high school. Walking across the stage to finally receive her diploma at the Academy of Hope graduation ceremony, her smile said all her family needed to know. “I told my mom that instead of saying eight of your children have a high school diploma, now you can say that all nine of them have one,” she said.  Now, Angela plans to continue her education with the goal of becoming a substance abuse counselor.
Angela poses for her graduation portrait.
            Angela was in good company at the ceremony, held in Crawford Hall in North East, DC. In an auditorium crowded with proud graduates, their beaming family members and a whole network of support in the Academy of Hope staff and volunteer faculty, everyone had a reason to be proud.  Introducing the graduates, Executive Director, Lecester Johnson, quoted the Shel Silverstein poem “Woulda-Coulda-Shouda,” in which “…those Woulda-Coulda-Shouldas/All ran away and hid/From that one little Did.”
            “Standing in front of me are a whole bunch of ‘Dids,’” Johnson said. It was not an easy road for a lot of the graduates here tonight…and it is one thing to say ‘I ‘woulda coulda shoulda’ done it’, it’s another thing to have actually succeeded.”
             As each student was introduced and was presented withtheir diploma, there were plenty of success stories to go around.  Twenty-four of the 27 graduates were present to walk across the stage to receive their GED certificates or high school diplomas.    The audience heard from graduate Antonette R., who remembered returning to her classes at Strive for Success, the STRIVE DC-Academy of Hope joint youth-focused GED program, a mere two days after giving birth to her son. She was getting ready to go to class on the day her contractions began, but soon realized that she would have to go to the hospital. “The first thing I did…was call my teachers from the hospital to tell them I can’t make it,” she said. She had her baby and went right back to studying – she was determined to not let anything get in the way of her obtaining her high school diploma.
            For Mary C., graduating from Academy of Hope with her high school diploma after 17 years of hard work means that she can get back on track with a career in child development or education—a plan that has been on her radar for a while. “I’ve always wanted to do that,” she said. She had worked with preschoolers before and the fact that she didn’t have her high school diploma held her back.  Now, armed with one following her long awaited and well deserved graduation from Academy of Hope, she’s looking forward to continuing her education at the University of DC and eventually working in childhood development.
            Throughout the evening, the smiles kept coming. Anthony J. accepted his diploma after being named the ‘social butterfly’ by his presenter. Four students received attendance awards for their dedication to coming to class and Tony Y. received the “I Can Fly” award for his hard work in class and great help outside the classroom. Several other students received the industry recognized Internet and Computer Core Certification (IC3) certificates, which will greatly help them in their further pursuits of either college or a job.  Eugene Thompson, a former volunteer, opened the ceremony with a passionate take on “You Raise Me Up.”
June 2012 Academy of Hope graduates with Executive Director, Lecester Johnson.
This day means the fulfillment of so many dreams,” Academy of Hope’s co-founder, Marja Hilfiker said. Whether it means closure after a lifetime of striving for a high school diploma or the extra boost that a young person needed to get to college, for the students, teachers and families at the graduation, Thursday was more than a day to celebrate their achievements. It was the beginning of a lifetime full of continued success.

By Martha Shanahan, volunteer writer for Academy of Hope 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Lecester Johnson, 2011 Exponent Award Winner & AoH Executive Director

Please enjoy this video made by the Eugene and Agnes Meyer Foundation recognizing Lecester Johnson, Academy of Hope Executive Director, as one of the 2011 Exponent Award recipients.

Monday, January 30, 2012

WAMU Features Two AoH Learners

Academy of Hope is pleased to share WAMU's “American Graduate” series, which kicks off its first article featuring two Academy of Hope learners, Saundra Walker and Grace McMillan, mother and daughter respectively. In this article entitled “Breaking the Cycle when Dropping Out Runs in the Family”, Saundra and Grace discuss the struggles they faced in high school, why they dropped out and how different it could have been had they and their children finished high school. Today this mother and daughter duo are attending classes together at Academy of Hope, picking up where they had left off in high school and working towards their GED certificates.  Hear their stories here and learn the top five reasons dropouts identify for leaving school. This article aired on Jan. 24th, 2012 on WAMU 88.5, a local affiliate of NPR.  "American Graduate: Let's Make It Happen" is a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Friday, January 27, 2012

NACo employees raise over $11K in support of Academy of Hope

NACo staff enjoying the 2011 Holiday Auction.
Corporate giving isn't just about writing checks; it can also be about having fun!  Each December since the early 1990s, the staff of the National Association of Counties (NACo) has held a Holiday Auction to raise money for a D.C.-area charity. Employees nominate various charities, and staff votes to choose one. This year, they selected Academy of Hope as their beneficiary and raised $11,300!

“NACo employees show their generosity year after year at our Holiday Auction,” NACo Executive Director  Larry E. Naake said. “This year’s total was among the highest we’ve ever raised, and we’re proud to be able to help an organization like the Academy of Hope, which is doing such important work in Washington, D.C.”

At the auction, employees bid on staff-donated items ranging from colleagues’ signature baked goods and libations to an autographed Jerry Rice football, homemade pierogies or a grab bag of memorabilia collected by employees during their business travel to the nation’s counties.  A “live” auction on a Friday is preceded by a silent auction the previous day. The association also kicks in money raised yearlong on its Friday “Jeans Days,” when employees can pay one dollar for the privilege of wearing denim. Watch a video clip from the 2011 auction at

NACo is the only national organization representing county government. Driven by a strong membership, it represents 3,068 counties across America. To learn more about NACo, visit

Academy of Hope is grateful for NACo and its staff for their generosity and incredible support!!