Activism, Education, Innovation, News, Social justice

The Power of Empathy and Education

An unexpected group of people came together to give a hand to a young man who was facing a challenge in funding his education. 

Before his sophomore year in high school, Sy Newson Green’s luck was running out. His family faced multiple challenges and money for his tuition at the Catholic Palma School was dwindling. 

Sy’s father needed a heart transplant; his mother lost vision in a softball accident. Both parents lost their jobs. While Sy was thriving at the all-boys school in Salinas, Calif., it was unclear if he would get enough help from the Palma School to cover $12,900 annual tuition. 

But an unlikely group of people raised their hands to cover the rest of Sy’s tuition: inmates at the nearby Correctional Training Facility, also known as Soledad State Prison.

Inmates had pooled their earnings from prison jobs like cleaning and clerking, many for a base wage of 8 cents per hour. The group earned $32,000 over a span of three years.

According to a recent article in The Washington Post

“I broke down and started crying because I knew where it was coming from,” said Sy’s father, Frank Green, about the donation. Green, 49, had recently lost his job with a limo company.

The inmates started saving in fall 2016, collecting enough to cover most of Sy’s high school tuition starting with his sophomore year in 2017. They raised $24,000 from their own pockets and received $8,000 from outside the prison.

The origins of the scholarship trace back to Exercises in Empathy, a Palma school program that had juniors, seniors, teachers and some community members regularly traveling to the prison to read and discuss books with inmates who were interested in improving themselves.

“You have to have an open mind,” Sy said. “If you go in there closed-minded, you’re not going to receive the wisdom they want to give to you.”

Today, Sy’s future looks bright. His father underwent successful heart transplant surgery last year, and Sy is a college freshman majoring in communications. He dreams of playing professional basketball one day and working in sports broadcasting.

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Jason Skog

Jason is a founder of JazzJune and its Chief Marketing Officer.

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