2020 was a year full of undeniable challenges and changes. For Rising Stars Youth Foundation, this meant reinventing a 40-year model to meet both. Here, we asked Rising Stars founder and president Paul Savramis what 2020 was like for the organization and how it was actually able to expand through a crisis.
Q: The pandemic affected everyone and made survival difficult for many sports-based programs. How did you navigate around the fact that basketball was banned in New York?
Paul Savramis: We utilized learning pods. This was a new direction, and we were able to use new programming to better reach our families. The learning pod program launched back in the fall and offered supplemental academic support along with social justice education to many of our youth. Students also had access to a book club to enhance literacy. We continue to use basketball as a motivation, and from September through December, we reached 70 student-athletes from low to middle-income backgrounds.
Jonathan Medley, 11th grade, of Laurelton, attends St. Francis Preparatory School.
Fresh Meadows Private School has three new students thanks to Paul Savramis and his organization, Rising Stars Youth Foundation. Three students, freshmen Tyler Michel and Hayden Cutile and junior Jonathan Medley, will begin the new school year at Fresh Meadows Private School. Here, Savramis discusses a few key points of the students and the scholarships.
Q: What is the Rising Stars Youth Foundation scholarship program?
Paul Savramis: Each year, Rising Stars Youth Foundation provides scholarships, which are made possible by donors, to students who show promise in both athletics and academics. The students, which range from freshmen to seniors, are provided with the funds to attend one of the many prestigious high schools in the New York City area.
Rising Stars Youth Foundation founder Paul Savramis explains how his organization is now using learning pods – arguably the way of the future of education – to help student-athletes both in and out of the classroom.
Q: What are learning pods?
Paul Savramis: Learning pods are like remote classrooms. Each pod is available certain days of the week to a select group of students. Currently, RS has six pods throughout NYC and the surrounding area and caters to approximately 75 students.
Q: Why are they important?
Paul Savramis: Rising Stars has always worked toward being a caregiver for its students and their families. When the pandemic hit, many of the young people in our programs were suddenly thrust into being home 100% of the time. As schools open in the most unusual of ways, having pods available acts as both stability and an opportunity to interact with friends and strangers alike.
Paul Savramis recently announced that Rising Stars Youth Foundation had formed a partnership with community support agency Forestdale. In the following brief Q&A session, the RSYF founder answers a few questions about the organization and what this partnership might mean to the children in its care.
Q: What is Forestdale?
Paul Savramis: Forestdale is a family services organization. It was founded in 1854 as the Brooklyn Industrial School Association and Home for Destitute Children. Originally, its mission was to teach trade skills to children with no family support. Today, Forestdale serves as a child welfare agency, and it is the only one of its kind in Queens. It works within the foster care system to ensure the well-being of the most vulnerable children.
Rising Stars Youth Foundation receives dozens of applicants for its intern position each year. According to Paul Savramis, many of these young men and women looking to volunteer or their time are highly qualified. However, one applicant, Izzy DeFrancesco, really stood out.
Q: Who is Izzy DeFrancesco?
Paul Savramis: Izzy is a student at the University of Delaware College. She is pursuing a bachelors of arts, and her majors are in Women’s Studies and Communications. On paper, DeFrancesco has an impeccable set of credentials, including being a Dean’s List scholar with a 4.0 GPA. While these accolades caught everyone’s attention, it was this young woman’s personality that really stood out.
Q: What makes DeFrancesco such a strong candidate and good intern?
Paul Savramis: Her vibrance and energy. She has a zest for life, and she is not afraid to attack problems with a smile. One thing that truly stands out is her creativity and ability to breathe new life into everything we’ve thrown at her.
Paul Savramis has been teaching children on and off the court for more than three decades. During that time, he’s picked up quite a few pointers on how, exactly, to encourage today’s youth to be more and do more for themselves and their communities. Here, the founder of Rising Stars Youth Foundation shares insights.
Q: What makes a student-athlete a Rising Star?
Paul Savramis: A Rising Star is someone who wants to be better for himself, his family, and his community. These are healthy and confident children who work hard every day to improve from the inside out. Our Rising Stars are those who put in the hard work both on and off the court and maintain a positive attitude.
Paul Savramis says that the Rising Stars Youth Foundation has brought him much joy over the years. But there are a few things that bring the non-profit’s founder greater satisfaction than seeing where the lives of the student athletes lead them.
According to Paul Savramis, Rising Stars Youth Foundation has given birth to a few of the sport’s most notable citizens. Jay Williams, formerly of the Chicago Bulls, is one of these. Williams currently serves as Rising Stars Youth Foundation’s goodwill ambassador. The five-star athlete and his family are huge supporters of youth sports, both in New York and across the country.
COVID-19 has cost the world so much, says Paul Savramis. And, despite waning numbers in many areas, it continues to take a toll. And few people are paying more than the students and athletes of the Rising Stars Youth Foundation Family.
According to Paul Savramis, while the coronavirus was making waves in China, it popped up on his radar. He knew based on data available as far back as February that, should the virus make it to the US, it would change the way his organization operated. Basketball is, after all, a contact sport, and contact is the one thing that has to be avoided to slow the spread.
According to Paul Savramis, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way his organization, Rising Stars Youth Foundation, works. Typically, the basketball outreach program hosts classes and events after school, on the weekends, and during the spring and summer breaks. However, social distancing and shelter-in-place orders have put an abrupt and unfortunate stop to this. Read on as Savramis opens up about a few things that are going to look different for Rising Stars for 2020.
Q: Rising Stars is known for its annual gala. Will this go on?
Paul Savramis: Sadly, for the first time in nearly 20 years, we have had to cancel our fundraising gala. This event is made possible by generous support from our community, and it is one of the primary ways that we spread awareness of the needs of our 200+ families. The gala, which was originally slated for May 19, would’ve brought together business and community leaders as well as some of the faces of Rising Stars Youth Foundation.
Paul Savramis says his heart is broken for the many student athletes that Rising Stars Youth Foundation serves. But, in this time of darkness, he says that his team and RSYF families have stepped up to shine a light in the worst of times. Keep reading as Savramis touches on a few key points of the way the organization has adjusted to the wildfire we call Covid-19.
Q: How is Rising Stars Youth Foundation supporting its student-scholars?
Paul Savramis: One of the most important things we’ve done is establish free programs in more than half a dozen areas. Our students can access everything from virtual magic tutorials to ballet classes and a book club. Although achieving structure during these unsettling times is difficult, having at least a few opportunities to take their minds off of the pandemic is crucial.