Mentoring program sends students around the world

Brian Nunez did not have an easy childhood. His father left the family when Nunez was young, and while living in Egleston Square, he bore witness to violence and people being shot.

“It wasn’t an upbringing a child should have,” said Nunez, a 17-year-old who now lives near Mozart and Centre streets in Hyde Square. “It was really tough. But growing up in JP has shaped who I am.”

But now Nunez is set to travel halfway around the world as part of Summer Search, a college-mentoring program headquartered in San Francisco and with a local office at 500 Amory St. in Jamaica Plain.

Nunez has not spoken to his father for two years and said he was a denigrating and judgmental person. The relationship gave Nunez low-esteem that eventually turned to a fire in the belly.

“I want to show how I am successful without him,” said Nunez. “His negativity made me want to excel.”

He has been given that chance through Summer Search. The program finds low-income high school students who have a desire to go to college and invest in themselves and provides them with year-round mentoring, life-changing summer experiences and college advising, according to Summer Search Executive Director Liz Marino.

“We look for an intersection of need and potential,” she said.

Marino said that only 14 percent of ninth-graders in Boston Public Schools graduate college, but when students join Summer Search, that rises to 85 percent. She said that Summer Search has 839 alumni and currently 375 students are in the program.

Nunez, who is a junior at the Urban Science Academy in West Roxbury, said he was overcome with joy when he found out that he was accepted into the program.

“I was literally jumping up and down,” he said.

The program provides a year-round mentor who is usually a former teacher or social worker, according to Marino. Nunez said his mentor is someone he can talk to about anything, a type of relationship he has never had in his life.

“She’s just always there for me,” said Nunez.

Summer Search also sends students on two trips: one after their sophomore year to a wilderness retreat somewhere in the United States, and the second after their junior year either to a college for preparation or to a foreign country for community service.

Last summer, Nunez went on a three-week trip to the wilderness in North Carolina, going on eight- to 10-mile hikes and carrying an 80-pound pack.

During the trip, he went on a “solo,” where he was left alone in the woods for two nights and three days. Nunez said at night he could hear animals crawling near him and he curled up in a fetal position and thought he was going to die.

“It was really a life-changing experience,” said Nunez. “My self-esteem grew.”

This summer, Nunez will be leaving in late July for a three-week trip to Ghana in Africa where he will teach elementary school students math and English. Nunez, who wants to become an elementary school teacher, said the trip would decide if he goes down the path of that profession.

Nunez also said he expects the trip to Ghana will clear away misconceptions he has about Africa and looks forward to seeing a whole new culture.

“I feel like it’s going to be an experience I’ll talk forever about,” said Nunez.

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