DARIEN – Shepherds Inc., an organization providing support to at-risk youth in Connecticut, recently marked its 15th anniversary with a dinner at Woodway Country Club, featuring New York Yankee first baseman Mark Teixeira as guest speaker.
Shepherds reaches out to at-risk youth who suffer from inadequate financial and familial resources. Guidance counselors fear that they will fall through the cracks in inner city public schools, where dropout rates soar as high as 54.9 percent. Sponsors pay all or part of the students’ four-year tuition, and mentors provide guidance.
"The best and the brightest always have opportunities," said Barnet Phillips IV, Shepherds’ co-founder. "They can get themselves through high school and into college. We wanted to help kids who are at risk, who are not necessarily reading or doing math at grade level."
Shepherds has had a 12-year partnership with Notre Dame High School of West Haven, during which it has helped 69 young men.
Jonathan Kearney, Shepherds/Notre Dame of West Haven alumni speaker (’05), said, "I value those in Shepherds who have made a sacrifice for me to have a chance to do better." A 2009 graduate of Quinnipiac University who is pursuing a Master of Business Administration degree at Southern Connecticut State University, Mr. Kearney has returned as a mentor to his alma mater. He wants to be an architect and build a house for his mother.
Another student said, "I do not want where I come from to determine who I will become. I can do great things." Another student said, "My Dad always said that I would never make anything of myself so I want to prove that I can achieve goals, work hard and succeed in life."
Since its inception, Shepherds has offered hope to more than 270 students from Bridgeport, Danbury, Middletown, New Haven, Norwalk and Stamford. More than 90 percent of its 179 students have pursued higher education. Its current population is 91 students.
"Becoming a sponsor and mentor is not an insignificant commitment, but it’s well worth it," adds co-founder Brendan Fisk. "It speaks to a person’s heart – to reach an inner-city kid and help them change their life. That’s the premise Shepherds is based on."