There are few men who have given of their time so freely as Paul Savramis. Here, the founder of Rising Stars, Inc. shares the organization’s annual report (click here) and helps us understand what 2014 meant for this non-profit organization.
Q: How did Rising Stars evolve and change in 2014?
Paul Savramis: The biggest difference in our programs last year has been the level of growth. We have seen an increase in donations and added nearly double the number of new scholarships.
Q: How many scholarship programs are available?
Paul Savramis: I am proud to say that we now have 11 scholarships given to applicants from four annual funds.
Q: What is the Guidance and Memorial Scholarship Program and Fund?
Paul Savramis: It is a token of respect for one of Rising Stars founding members that we lost in 2014, my friend, Mr. Tyrone Green.
Q: We understand that Mr. Green was a promoter of childhood intervention and positive reinforcement?
Paul Savramis: That’s right; he was a staunch advocate of children’s rights and he believed in the promise that each child held within them. Ty would always say, “There is no such thing as a bad kid – just bad programs and upbringing!” We thought there was no better way to remember him than to attach his name to a scholarship and add another “good program”.
Q: Why is the expansion of the Long Island City Black History Tournament and Essay Contest so important to Rising Stars?
Paul Savramis: The contest recently added some more of the neighborhoods that we serve. Now, kids from Lefrak City, Queensbridge, and the Astoria Projects participate. The contest offers these kids the chance to learn something from their heritage and understand that African-Americans have made so many positive contributions to the world. It also is a way we can get to know more of the children in need of our programs.
Q: Isn’t that something taught in schools already?
Paul Savramis: These kids come from a world where guns and gang violence rule. Most of their early interaction with role models is negative. Some won’t even go to school and many drop out. This essay makes them dig deep and understand that no matter their situation, they have a choice to make and the choice they make will make a difference.
Q: That sounds a lot like Rising Stars’ goal?
Paul Savramis: Yes, we want kids to know that with some help, they can work their way through. Something that’s notable I’d like to mention here is that all of our senior students graduated high school again this year – including kids that are from these same neighborhoods.
Q: Have any of these graduates made plans for college?
Paul Savramis: Yes. Each and every one! We are proud to say that the goal is not to just see them graduate, but to graduate issue-free and college-ready!
Q: How does Rising Stars help kids get to that point?
Paul Savramis: Looking at the goal of attending college, what that entails, and what is needed to graduate college begins very early for the kids in Rising Stars. In 2014, we grew our college resource and guidance programs to continue to assist our student athletes throughout that journey.
Q: We hear that the Long Island YMCA Partnership had a pretty big year in 2014.
Paul Savramis: It was amazing; we exceeded all of our goals! Our kids’ test score and GPAs went up across the board.
Q: Any plans on implementing another YMCA partnership in the future?
Paul Savramis: Yes, absolutely! We are looking at a full collaboration for the class of 2015.
Q: How are the Knicks associated with Rising Stars?
Paul Savramis: The NY Knicks are a big sponsor. In 2014, they surprised 50 of our at-risk families with an awesome event: A Day at Madison Square Garden with the Knicks, the City Dancers, and all of the MSG staff. The kids were thrilled.
Q: Who is Gordon Thomas?
Paul Savramis: He is a huge advocate of Alzheimer’s awareness – we began working together in 2014 and plan on adding his events to our community awareness programs.
Q: Tell us a little about Thomas O’Connell. We hear he is quite a role model for some of the kids in the program.
Paul Savramis: Thomas is one for the record books and one that we’ve mentored since grade school. Thomas is a Puerto-Rican American that was the unanimous choice to receive the Ryan Fitzgerald memorial scholarship. Ryan was a Rising Star lost to 911 and a close friend. What he stood for mattered then and matters now. The boy selected for this scholarship is selected by Ryan’s family and friends; It is not an easy choice. Last year, after being named to the honor roll at Chaminade for four years, as well as serving as a football and basketball team captain, Thomas signed a letter of intent to attend the University of Maryland on a Lacrosse scholarship. Thomas has been in our programs since 4th grade and reflects everything we strive for in our student athletes. What is also special is that Thomas is looked at by other student athletes (in three different sports) as someone to emulate.
Q: And Molloy College has just recruited one of your players, right?
Paul Savramis: Yes, Curtis Jenkins! He is one of the most talented and personable kids you’ll ever meet. Like Thomas, Curtis was well-rounded and a phenomenal all-state football selection in addition to playing basketball. Molloy is lucky to have him.
Q: It sounds like Rising Stars has made a huge difference in so many students’ lives. Can you tell us about some of the most memorable in 2014?
Paul Savramis: They are all stories of extraordinary kids who just needed a hand up. Losini Kamara and Gerald Buncum are two of these. Losini arrived in the US from Africa at a tremendous disadvantage at home and wasn’t doing well in school. Our Education Program helped to change that and place Losini in a private school, where he is thriving both academically and athletically. Gerald is a boy with a mom that just wanted the best for her son. She sought help and found Rising Stars. As of last year, I understand that Gerald is now also on the honor roll at Holy Cross HS and in line for a possible scholarship to college.