Formerly Homeless Student Starts Nonprofit to Help His Peers Get to College

Posted by Liz Dwyer

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Nineteen-year-old New York City student Orayne Williams knows a lot about how to avoid becoming a statistic. Last year Williams, who was abandoned by his family when he was 12 and spent his teen years living in homeless shelters, managed to graduate from high school with honors and enrolled at Manhattanville College on a full scholarship. His campus dormitory was his first non-shelter home in years.

His achievements are so inspiring that the New York Daily News made him their success story of 2010 and their readers generously donated $15,000 to him. But Williams is determined to not be a happy exception. Last November, he founded a new nonprofit, the Progressive People Movement, Inc, which hopes to help at-risk "youth break free from the cycles of homelessness, incarceration, poverty and failure."

The Brooklyn-based organization is run by a cadre of young volunteers, who, like Williams, know what its like to face seemingly insurmountable obstacles and can related to students with problems. Starting this fall, Williams and his team will visit community centers and homeless shelters in order to provide high schoolers with "college readiness, tutoring, mentoring, life skills workshops, possible internships, career shadowing, job experiences," and more. 

Williams hopes to raise at least $30,000 to cover the cost of materials for tutoring and counseling. He'll be doing so while continuing his college studies this fall, but he's determined to teach his peers the skills they need to get to access higher education and improve their lives. 

"If I can do it, they can do it," he says.

photo via Progressive People Movement