Project Rousseau Empowers Youth From High-Need Communities To Pursue Higher Education

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Below is our recent interview with Olivia Lei, Partnerships and Engagement Specialist at Project Rousseau:

Q: Could you provide our readers with a brief introduction to your company?

A: At Project Rousseau, our mission is to empower youth from high-need communities to pursue higher education and reach their full potential. Our students typically come from families with an average income of less than $12,000, living well below the poverty line. Along with financial insecurity, our students often face hardships such as homelessness, hunger, and violence.

We take a holistic approach to our students’ education and development because we believe that academic problems rarely have solely academic causes. We do this through four pillars of programming: comprehensive, one-to-one Mentoring and Student Needs support; Academics; Community Service; and Broadening Horizons.

Project Rousseau’s programs have served over 2,500 students, with many going on to receive prestigious scholarships and top-tier educations. But most importantly, they become empowered community members, global citizens, and leaders who realize their full potential. Our goal is not simply for our students to have access to higher education but also to succeed once they get there fully.

Q: Any highlights on your recent announcement? 

A: Project Rousseau, Goldman Sachs and Globant recently announced the launch of a web application to help homeless youth navigate the homeless shelter system in New York City. There are over 100,000 homeless children and young adults living in New York City today, many of whom face repeated challenges finding shelters where they are eligible for admission. The app allows youth to search for shelter availability that best meets their needs and, most importantly, it clearly lists the required admissions criteria, such as the documents needed, gender identity, LGBTQ+ status, or if a shelter permits a young parent to bring their child with them.

Q: Can you give us more insights into your offering?

A: The uncertainty of this process can have a profound impact on students in particular, as it can be challenging for them to effectively continue to attend their schools and have a sense of stability. The lack of a streamlined, personalized placement system makes navigating the homeless shelter system difficult and stressful for many young people. This app is a phenomenal resource for homeless youth and their service-providers to streamline what is otherwise a very complex process during a young person’s time of greatest need. It aims to increase the young person’s sense of agency in the situation, and decrease the fatigue and skepticism created by the current process.

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Q: What can we expect from your company in the next 6 months? What are your plans?

A: As an organization, we continuously strive to expand the holistic nature of our work, always looking to reach those we serve with more breadth and depth. This app is one example in which we’ve grown how we show up for our students, and we hope to continue looking for innovative ways to solve the many issues that they face on a daily basis (including homelessness, lack of accessibility to food, difficulties navigating social services, and more).

Q: What is the best thing about your company that people might not know about?

A: Because one of our biggest focuses is on maintaining a low barrier to access, we have no intake criteria other than need. That means that we take youth regardless of their ability level. We meet students where they are, with a staff that speaks multiple languages, to offer them mentorship, academic support, career development, and more. Here at Project Rousseau, we believe that every young person, regardless of their circumstances, deserves a chance to reach their full potential. We’re committed to this mission from our intake process to our hiring (several of our current staff are actually former students!)

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