Impacting Change, One Student At A Time

 In Freedom House

In Fernandel’s summer speech to over one hundred students at Freedom House, the room had an electrifying energy. Students admired him for being transparent and for giving them direction and a concrete plan, called a “Meaningful Action Plan”, to navigate the challenges ahead of them.

Freedom House Student Success Conference

With a personal purpose statement that reads, “I’m off to rescue students from an average life”, Fernandel – a two-time tenth grade repeat, a high school dropout and homeless teen for over two years in the streets of Boston, and now a Harvard research community member and student – is quite the inspiration and the energy that we needed this summer. Students and parents listened intently and connected to his moving story about his time as a homeless teen and not giving up on himself despite his circumstances: “Those were some of the best years of my life because I would go to the library all day and read, and when it closed, I went to Barnes and Noble until it too closed. Learning was empowering, and the value of learning became clear. It wasn’t just about a job placement or a career advancement tool; it was about self-improvement.”

Fernandel understands firsthand the difficulties faced by low-income students and students who struggle academically with access to few resources. Five years ago, as a community college student prior to attending Harvard University Extension School, he co-founded The National Center for Student Success, with a mission to find the root causes of disengagement in the classroom, poor grades and the dropout epidemic, and to impact change, one student at a time.

Last school year, The National Center for Student Success helped students in Roxbury to secure over $300,000 in scholarship funds, and this summer, Fernandel and his team donated nearly $41,000 in materials and services to programs for low-income students. This includes a progressive program this spring and summer with Freedom House Academy, aimed at helping at-risk students to graduate high school and enter college with a strong support system, which Fernandel emphasizes is essential to avoid the pitfalls common to low-income students. “I take action with a sense of urgency and in unity of purpose. I am most grateful for and supportive of the great feats that my fellow Agents of Change are achieving despite low budgets and high needs.”

To date, Fernandel has donated over 90% of his salary to such programs that provide students from low-income Boston communities like Roxbury, Dorchester and Hyde Park with an opportunity to become first-generation college students – with the hopes of closing the achievement gap and breaking the cycles of generational poverty often found in such areas.

Fernandel embodies the philanthropic culture of The National Center for Student Success in his daily life. To minimize personal spending and to maximize giving to programs, Fernandel has made the conscious decision not to own a cell phone. Three years ago, he deferred his dream of owning a car and still commutes on a used bicycle today. He also cuts his own hair to reduce expenses and allocate more funding to student programs. A short few years ago when Fernandel proposed to his fiancée, he did so with rings made of cotton thread in their effort to maximize impact to students through financial support.

As he concluded his speaking engagement, Fernandel asked the students to high five each other, not in the traditional way but by saying five positive things about themselves beginning with “I am”. He strongly believes that this simple practice can help reaffirm students’ self-esteem, especially when they encounter obstacles on their personal journey. “I see the boundless potential in each and every student here, but I know the challenges that lie ahead of them. I want to do more to ensure that they become successful, and I hope to find more people who will join me in this cause.”

Showing 11 comments
  • [email protected]

    This is a great real story about Fernandel, one person how much make difference in the society. The “Meaningful Action Plan “mean achievable action plan: being a homeless teen and not giving up on himself despite his circumstances: he done it, so anyone can do it, Thank you so much for his organization “The National Center for Student Success” donated over 90% of his salary to minimize personal spending and giving to maximize to programs. With the hopes of closing the achievement gap and breaking the cycles of generational poverty.
    He is the 21st century GANDHI of Boston, living simple, thinking, saying and doing. It is hard to find person like him today century. He need our help, his team done it here, this sample could be done it through the Country. Great work, Thank you,

    [email protected]

  • Jesse

    I have been spending quite a bit of time with Fernandel while working out of Harvard’s iLab. He is wonderful inspiration and brand for the power of self-improvement. Given the challenges he has confronted, you could forgive him for walking around with a chip on his shoulder. This could not be further from the truth. Fernandel is generous with his time and also welcoming. I am keenly following his pursuits.

  • Atima

    Wow! I have the pleasure of seeing Fernandel in our mutual co-working space at the Harvard Innovation Lab where he is constantly working to further his mission of improving the lives of children in disadvantaged areas. He is a bright light that you can clearly see glowing after just one short conversation with him. And now, reading this article that explains more about his background and motivations, I am only more encouraged and more impressed. So grateful to know this change-maker dedicated to such important work.

  • Matthew

    I met Fernandel one late night when he came to Northeastern University to advocate for a project to help teens in LA’s Skid Row. I was immediately captured by his energy and warm vibes. Fernandel is truly an inspiration and continues to inspire everyday. Thank you Fernandel.

  • Josh

    What a beautiful story and a wonderful mission. Fernandel is an amazing person and a true inspiration to those around him. Thank you for doing what you are doing!

  • Ali

    Thank you, Fernandel, for all of the important work you do. You are an inspiration!

  • Ali

    Thank you, Fernandel, for all of the important work you do. You are an inspiration!

  • Sara

    What incredible work and what impressive commitment. I’m so glad to know about this program. Congratulations, and keep up the great and noble work!

  • Pierre

    I am quite amazed by the achievement of Fernandel. Being a rare but nonetheless friend to him, I am always by his way of thinking in most of conversation.

  • Gini

    I have known Fernandel at work and school for few years. His consistent positive energy is infectious. I am grateful to learn more about him and his work. What a great story! This is such an inspiration to a lot of us. I thank you, Fernandel for your wonderful work and dedication to our community. You are a role model for those of us who do little or none other than chasing our own endless demands. Keep up the marvelous work!

  • Ben

    I met Fernandel when he stopped by the MIT sit-in for climate action. His friendly nature and interesting stories helped me stay up during a long overnight!

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