For André Lira Gordenstein, MSW '09, his two years organizing workshops and after-school programs for children and youth in a Costa Rican government housing project provided precisely the real-world experience he needed to prepare for a lifetime of working with at-risk kids.
Gordenstein, a graduate of the Boston College Graduate School of Social Work, spent the first twelve years of his life in Brazil, the son of an American college professor and a Brazilian mother who is currently a Language and Literacy professor at Lesley University. Even after moving to the Boston area for junior high and high school, Gordenstein and his family would make frequent trips back to Rio de Janeiro.
"I was very fortunate to grow up with two parents, a stable home and a stable environment. My parents were not rich by any means, but we had enough," says Gordenstein, who speaks fluent Portuguese and Spanish. "And then I'd go back to Brazil and walk around the streets of Rio and see kids and people on the street with nowhere to live, and the contrast really struck me hard."
In college at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Gordenstein was instinctively drawn to volunteer in outreach programs involving troubled kids. He was a bilingual tutor and a sports coach.
At first, he didn't even think it was possible to make a career out of helping kids, but after graduating and landing a job with an organization that assists low-income high school seniors with college applications, he set his sights on becoming a director of a youth development organization.
That's where the Peace Corps fits in.
"I know a lot of people go to Peace Corps for incredibly altruistic reasons, and I genuinely believe in the mission of Peace Corps," says Gordenstein. "But I also felt I needed to do this to really be able to speak with any validity about the population I wanted to work with."
At the GSSW, Gordenstein studied macro social work with a concentration in Children, Youth and Families, learning the most effective approaches to running a sustainable non-profit youth development organization. During his studies, he had the opportunity to work with the United Way’s Community Impact division and held an elected spot as a student representative on the GSSW Executive Board.
At the conclusion of his studies in May of 2009, André was accepted into The Education Pioneers Fellowship Program, a cohort of recent top graduate students from the fields of Law, Education, Business, and Public Policy, who work to close the educational achievement gap.
To take advantage of this opportunity, André has moved to San Francisco, CA, and began his fellowship experience where he is helping with the implementation of the strategic plan for a small youth serving organization in East Palo Alto, CA. This organization, Foundation for a College Education, works with low-income students from a much underserved community. At the same time, Gordenstein continues to look for leadership positions with Bay Area youth serving agencies to begin in the fall. With his combination of valuable experience and authentic motivation, there's little mystery to how André’s plan will turn out.