When Enrique Velasquez ’23 moved to South Fallsburg from Honduras in 2017, he didn’t know any English. He was struggling but determined to learn.
“When I got here, I didn’t know any English at all,” said Velasquez, who was born in New Jersey and moved to Honduras with his mother at a young age. “I felt helpless. It was a hard time for me. I’m the kind of person who always tries to do my best, but, when I got here, I couldn’t do anything. Then I met Valerie.”
Valerie Brescia, then a tutor and coordinator for the newly established SUNY Sullivan Liberty Partnerships Program, is now Director of the Program, which is part of the statewide Liberty Partnership Program (LPP). SUNY Sullivan LPP and its community-based partners help underserved and underperforming area youth become college- and career-ready, through a Summer Program, as well as year-round mentoring, tutoring, study skills classes, ESL support, field trips, and admissions and financial aid workshops. In 2023, SUNY Sullivan LPP served 300 plus students in Liberty and Monticello school districts and Sullivan County BOCES.
After meeting Brescia in 2017, Velasquez became one of SUNY Sullivan LPP’s first students.
“She spoke to me in Spanish, and it was such a relief to me to have someone speaking Spanish to me,” said Velasquez, who was determined to learn English. “I remember staying after school till 7:30 at night. Val really helped me. She was so nice to me and so patient with me. If I didn’t receive that help from LPP, I don’t think I would be speaking English that much.”
Fast forward six years, and Velasquez is now a SUNY Sullivan graduate, and has been a bilingual mentor and tutor for SUNY Sullivan LPP for two years. He earned his Liberal Arts and Sciences degree while going to school full-time, living on his own with a younger brother, and working two jobs. He also often works as a translator at SUNY Sullivan admissions, orientation, and other events. This past April, Velasquez attended the statewide Liberty Partnership Program’s Empire Promise Youth Summit in Albany as a mentor and LPP program alumnus.
“He’s become everything and more than I thought he could become when I met him in 2017,” said Brescia. “He’s a self-made person who knows when to ask for help but who puts the legwork and miles in to make himself successful.”
“SUNY Sullivan has brought me the opportunity to have a career,” said Velasquez. “I will always be grateful for that.”
This summer, Velasquez is working with local students in LPP’s six-week Summer Program, which provides career and academic support, tours of the College, and financial literacy, nutrition, team-building, healthy relationships, and other programs to local middle and high school students. More than 50 students from Liberty and Monticello school districts and Sullivan County BOCES are participating this summer.
In addition to being a model for students, Brescia and others in the Summer Program say Velasquez has a great personal impact on the students’ experiences in the program, getting them to open up and engage in activities, especially students who know little English.
“I think he’s a hell of a mentor,” said Junior Sanchez, a facilitator with Follow Us to Success, one of the Summer Program’s partners. “He gets these kids to understand that he’s been there before, and, if he can do it, they can do it. He’s paved the way for a lot of them.”
“I feel like I’m giving back what I once was given,” said Velasquez, who said he understands what it’s like to struggle. “It’s not easy to get rid of that feeling that you don’t fit in. Maybe I can make a tiny small change in one person’s life or mindset.”
During the school year, Velazquez has worked for LPP as a bilingual, science, and math tutor in local school districts. This past year he worked with students in Liberty Central School District. Markella Nikolis, a school counselor at Liberty High School, said Velasquez’s kind and helpful approach has had a big impact on Liberty students.
“Enrique easily became part of our school community,” said Nikolis, a school counselor at Liberty High School, “He understands how to reach all of our students no matter their learning style, background, or ability.”
Liberty Superintendent Dr. Patrick I. Sullivan said the benefits of the district’s partnership with LPP go beyond the classroom.
“The impact of our collaboration with SUNY Sullivan’s Liberty Partnership Program goes beyond the years our students attend Liberty Central Schools,” said Sullivan. “We appreciate the collaborative relationship with LPP, and all that it does for our students within our hallways and beyond.”
Looking to the future, Velasquez said he will likely take a semester off, but that he hopes to pursue a four-year degree, likely in sciences, especially astronomy. For now, he will continue working for LPP and at his night and weekend job at Walmart in Monticello. Always eager to learn more, he’s also been studying French in the evening through an online program.
“It’s just a great opportunity, like a key to open up a door for more knowledge,” said Velasquez, who said he is eager to learn more about other cultures. “My way of thinking is why not learn something? Why not read a book? Why not become the better version of yourself?”
Brescia calls Velasquez the “tutor who wears a cape.”
“He’s a lot of people’s hero. He’s one of my heroes,” said Brescia, who is quick to say that all her staff wear capes. “I’m blessed with a great staff.”
For more information on SUNY Sullivan LPP, visit sunysullivan.edu/liberty-partnerships-program.
August 11, 2023.