Published On: Thu, Jun 6th, 2019

Propel Grad Guesnaisha Altena Named 2019 Kelly Strul Emerging Scholar, Fulfilling Her Late Mother’s Dream

For Gregg Francis, the end of each school year brings mixed emotions. As the CEO for PROPEL, he has the bittersweet job of watching his seniors fulfill the mission of his nonprofit organization – to leave the afterschool program to pursue a post-secondary academic career, thanks, in part, to the tutoring, guidance and support they received from PROPEL. But even as he hugs them goodbye, he’s smiling at their triumph.

This year, graduate Guesnaisha Altena, 18, of Boca Raton High School, makes him especially proud. She is part of the newest class of Kelly/Strul Emerging Scholars program, which welcomes first-generation, local students to attend Florida Atlantic University on full scholarship.

Guesnaisha Altena

The program dedicates $50,000 per student, which breaks down to $12,500 per year for four years. It is designed to help students with each step of the college process including mentoring, housing, achieving financial literacy, embracing Owl pride, joining student organizations, becoming a mentor, becoming an intern, preparing for graduation and ultimately securing a job.

For Altena, it is not only a dream come true for her, but also the realization of a wish held by her mother, who passed away in earthquake in Haiti. Altena found PROPEL through friends, after struggling to assimilate to American culture on her own.

“I needed help with my classes and learning the language,” said Altena, who was born in Haiti before coming to the U.S. with her father and seven sisters. Her sister, 15, also takes tutoring classes at PROPEL. Altena created a video for a class project that detailed the agonizing loss of her mother, when on January 12, 2010, a magnitude 7.0 earthquake devastated the Caribbean island nation. The quake, which was the strongest to strike the region in more than 200 years, left more than 200,000 people dead and some 895,000 Haitians homeless.

Following the tragedy, Altena’s family moved to South Florida, where she had no connections and had to begin again. PROPEL works with a large number of transplanted youth, who are simultaneously learning a new language, building a network of friends and trying to excel in school.

PROPEL (People Reaching Out to Provide Education & Leadership) is dedicated to helping disadvantaged youth from south Lantana to Boca Raton achieve academic success through leadership training, tutoring and life-skills programs. Located in east Boca Raton, PROPEL successfully works with more than 100 students through its after-school and weekend programs, focusing on literacy enhancement, SAT/ACT Prep, STEM programs, healthy living initiatives and post- secondary career planning.

Altena embodies the hope of Kelly/Strul Emerging Scholars program Co-Founder Aubrey Strul of Boca Raton – a first-generation student/now influential, local business owner, who spearheaded the program in 2017. Strul wants to underwrite more students to attend Florida Atlantic University because he cannot fathom smart, ambitious students walking away from school due to lack of money.

“This is what I’ve always wanted to do – earn my degree, take care of my family and make my parents proud,” Altena said.

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