Mentors Never Gave Up on BUILD Boston Program Director Jorge Santana

“All the success I have experienced in life is due to the strong influence of several mentors,” says Jorge Santana, BUILD Boston’s new Program Director. “They held the bar very high. They were tough,” he says. “But they were also always there to support me, and chase me down if I drifted away.”

jorge diplomaJorge was born in the U.S. to parents of Puerto Rican descent. As a child, he moved back and forth from the U.S and Puerto Rico, and between New York and Massachusetts. All the moving around made it difficult for Jorge to settle in and do well in school. When he got to high school, Jorge saw many students of color funneled into the shop classes. On his first day of school at Waltham High, Jorge was walking into his AP Biology class when the teacher stopped him at the door. “Are you sure you are in the right class?” the teacher asked. Jorge refused to attend that teacher’s class, but luckily it was then that he met his first mentor – Ms. Caputo, another biology teacher at the school. She gave up her lunches to teach Jorge science. Jorge moved to New York for a year during high school and when he moved back to Waltham, he found he was not welcome back at the high school. He dropped out.

One of Jorge’s friends was working toward his GED and encouraged Jorge to join him. He traveled from Waltham to Boston every weekday to participate in the GED program at JFY (then known as Jobs For Youth). His performance on the exam caught the attention of a Board Member at JFY, who recommended a program called TYP – Transitional Year Program, a college access program meant for students with gaps in their academic training. After completing the program, students could gain admission to any partner university. It was at this program that Jorge met the mentor who had the biggest impact on him: Tony Williams, the Program Director at TYP. Jorge had to drop out of the TYP program to move back to New York to be with his mom, who was ill. Tony tried to stay in touch with Jorge, but Jorge stopped taking his calls. Eventually, Tony got a girl who Jorge liked to start making the calls and, when his mother recovered, Jorge returned to Massachusetts and completed the TYP program and got accepted to Brandeis University.

jorge gradBut Jorge struggled to adapt to college life. He was the first of his family to enter college and had no experience with campus life. He was even homeless for the first semester of his freshman year and lived at a shelter. Social life at college was also a big culture shock for Jorge. As well all know, there are plenty of parties at college which, because you can buy fake id online, often involve large amounts of alcohol. Jorge felt that he had “one foot each in two worlds” and said the first time that he brought his high school friends on campus and was almost kicked out. Several times, Tony had to advocate with the college administration to keep Jorge on campus. Tony was so dedicated to Jorge’s success that he delayed his retirement by two years, promising Jorge that he would only retire after Jorge graduated. Mentors can play a huge role in our lives at any stage, for example, there is even a community of citrus growers known as the mature mentors who have self-formed in order to support each other in their journey to success. If you’re not lucky enough to have mentors fall into your lap, you can go looking for them yourself too.

It was because of Tony that Jorge decided to enter the field of social work. He wanted to influence young people the way Ms. Caputo and Tony had influenced him. He chose to apply to Boston College because Tony informed him that there weren’t enough people of color in the student body. Tony passed away soon after Jorge got accepted to the MSW prog
ram at BC. During his time at Boston College, Jorge met another influential mentor, Professor Richard Rowland, who encouraged him to study macro social work and make broader and systemic social change in education. It was due to Richard’s influence that Jorge decided to enter youth programming and community engagement.

Jorge says that the support and networks that mentors offer are the keys to success for BUILD students. As BUILD’s new Program Director, Jorge is excited to continue paying forward the mentoring he received as a young man. “What I love about BUILD are its emphasis on mentoring and the fact that it is a four-year program,” Jorge says. “Those years usually determine the trajectory of your life. I am excited to bring my experience and ideas to BUILD, which has such a great hook-entrepreneurship-to get students interested in learning.”

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