February 22, 2017

An innovative program uses summer experiences to help students succeed

A mentorship model from Renewal Awards finalist Summer Search is building the next generation of leaders

Summer Search provides students in need with mentoring, support, and an opportunity to participate in a summer wilderness experience. Photo by Summer Search


Meet the finalists for The Atlantic’s Renewal Awards, underwritten by Allstate. These individuals are the forces behind the 25 nonprofits competing for $100,000 in grant money. Five winners will be announced March 30 at The Renewal Summit in Washington, on TheAtlantic.com, and here, on The Renewal Project.

Emily Edwards started her career as a mentor at Summer Search Boston in 1999. Now she’s the organization’s Interim Chief Development Officer. Along the way she has been the Executive Director of the Boston office and in 2004, she was named one of Boston’s Outstanding Young Leaders.

Edwards has spent her entire career at Summer Search and she believes in its mission to support low income students through mentoring, college advising, and experiential opportunities.

Meet the 39-year-old community leader and follow Summer Search of Twitter (@SummerSearch), and on Facebook.

This questionnaire has been edited for length and clarity.

Describe your community:

EMILY EDWARDS: Summer Search serves students from households with a median income of $23,230 in five markets across the country: Bay Area, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Seattle. The majority of our students are students of color and are the first in their family to go to college.

What inspired you to do this work?

I am motivated by a deep commitment to equity and educational opportunity. I’ve devoted my entire career to Summer Search and the young people we serve. My leadership is informed by my experience as a student at one of Philadelphia’s best public schools, Central High School, where I watched my classmates break through systematic barriers to become the first in their families to graduate high school and go on to college. My contributions here at Summer Search are informed by their grit and courage, and the access to enhanced public education that provided avenues for them to become community leaders.

What ways are you helping to make your community thrive?

Just as I’ve dedicated my career to Summer Search, my husband has dedicated his career to another nonprofit, Ethos, also based in Jamaica Plain, which serves the elderly and the disabled. Together, he and I are raising our three boys who attend a wonderful Boston public elementary school on the Jamaica Plain-Roxbury line, the Mendell School. My husband and I are committed to supporting our kids and their classmates at the Mendell to thrive in school and to strive to embody the school’s values of inclusion, justice, respect, and humility.

What do you love about your community?

Jamaica Plain is a diverse, vibrant and progressive community with many families like ours who are committed to raising children who learn the value of service and giving back. Many of my fellow working parents, Jamaica Plain running buddies, and long-standing friends are now also Summer Search investors and volunteers based on a shared commitment to education, youth, families, and equity.

What’s one thing you want outsiders to know about your community?

There is profound diversity and positive leadership in and by communities of color across every neighborhood in Boston.

What leader or leaders inspired you?

Summer Search alumni have inspired me with their leadership every day of my 18-year career. Before I was hired to work for Summer Search, I read an essay one of our alumni had written about her leadership and growth from high school through becoming the first in her family to graduate college. I knew immediately that the bravery and introspection I heard in her voice would mean that if I engaged in Summer Search as a mentor, I would be profoundly changed. Since then I’ve watched our alumni become school and community leaders, the kinds of parents I aspire to be, nurses and corporate leaders, philanthropists, and entrepreneurs. Every day I work to expose my own three young boys to values aligned with Summer Search because I hope for my sons to grow up with even a fraction of the altruism and persistence I see in every Summer Search alumni leader.

Margaret Myers

Margaret Myers

Margaret Myers is the editor of The Renewal Project.
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