Student Spotlight: Stephanie Wu
Co-Education Director for the Harvard Organization for Prison Education and Reform (HOPE) & Site Director for the Judge Connelly Youth Center Program.
Stephanie Wu is the co-Education Director for the Harvard Organization for Prison Education and Reform (HOPE) as well as the Site Director for the Judge Connelly Youth Center Program. Judge Connelly Youth Center is a juvenile justice facility located in Roslindale, MA. Twice a week, a group of students and her tutor young men at Connelly in high school classes and HiSET preparation (equivalent of GED). Here, they lead group discussions on important issues like racism, gender and feminism, family and relationships. Stephanie has been involved with HOPE and Judge Connelly ever since her freshman fall. She says, “the young people that I work with have had a profound impact on my life and the way that I view the world. Even in my third year of volunteering at Connelly, I continue to be amazed at the talent, brilliance, thoughtfulness, and resilience of these young men who have been through more than I can even imagine.”
When we go to program, she sees how hard these young men are making an effort to change their lives. She says, “As tutors and mentors, we do all we can to give these youth the confidence to pursue their dreams and the skills to think critically about their lives and their futures. We push them to reflect on their goals and how exactly to achieve them. It gives me so much joy to see their hard work pay off when someone gets their HiSET, or qualifies to take online classes at Bunker Hill Community College, or gets a job in something that they genuinely enjoy doing.” One of her favorite moments at Connelly was when she was discussing Sociology with a young man named Perez who was taking a Sociology course at Bunker Hill (herself being a Sociology concentrator). The next week he gave Stephanie a copy of the essay he had written for the course, and she was blown away by his quality of writing and how much effort he had put in. Stephanie says, “Our job is to tutor these youth, but every time I go they end up teaching me something as well.”
As rewarding as this work can be, at times it can also be painful and heartbreaking. Stephanie recounts a personal story: “It’s difficult to stand by and watch as the young men with whom I’ve built real friendships and seen real progress from fall into old patterns. Ace, a young man with whom I worked with for more than a year until he was released, was recently a victim of gun violence. This terrible tragedy has made me realize that for these youth, a lot is at stake, and it’s further motivated me to fully engage in this important work.” Currently, Stephanie is working towards expanding HOPE’s programming to include a mentoring program for youth after they are released.
She dedicates this to Ace, a charismatic young man who always had a smile on his face, and who was so talented both musically and artistically – You are loved.