AYPF founder Samuel Halperin believed strongly in the value of public service and the potential for education to lift youth out of poverty and to change their lives. On Monday, April 20, 2015, AYPF and IEL honored Efrem Ayalew, whose dedication to these ideas embodies Halperin’s work and life.
The Samuel Halperin Youth Public Service Award, which honors a deep commitment to public service, was presented to Ayalew, a 24-year-old teacher’s assistant at Buck Lodge Middle School in Adelphi, Maryland, as an AmeriCorps volunteer.
Ayalew, who moved to the Washington area with his mother and four siblings when he was twelve, was introduced to the value of learning and public service during the Upward Bound program via the Latin American Youth Center (LAYC) in high school, and continued his volunteer work after graduating from St. Mary’s College of Maryland at Roosevelt High School in Washington, D.C.
“The importance of igniting the curiosities of the young so they can pursue a world of dreams and hope rather than live out a life of fear and mediocrity remains the single most driving force for my passion, fueling my desire to pursue a career in teaching and youth development work, “ Efrem said, reading from his essay.
Efrem also described the challenges of working with students to focus on their studies, who at the same time were faced with a host of cultural and social influences. “What do you say to a girl who just came from South America and is a great student, but is gradually being influenced to find more value in her beauty than in her work ethics and personal integrity,” said Efrem.
The event’s inaugural lecturer, Hilary Pennington, Vice President of the Ford Foundation’s Education, Creativity and Free Expression program, spoke before Efrem, and focused on not only the progress made, but also the significant amount of work to be done in improving youth outcomes. Large gaps in postsecondary achievement, employment, and wages had not improved enough for disconnected youth, or “the forgotten half,” said Pennington. “You take all these trends together and you have to be sobered at where we started from, despite the enormous progress that we’ve made.”
Pennington also added that in order to address the challenges of improving youth outcomes, efforts will have to be comprehensive and address all aspect’s of youth’s lives. “What Sam would remind us is that the responses we should be aiming for are not responses that divide and segment, they are responses that see young people as whole beings,” said Pennington.
Volunteering, dedication to public service, and commitment to improving the lives of young people was Samuel Halperin’s vision, and young people like Ayalew will be key in continuing the mission. As Deena Barlev, Halperin’s daughter, who introduced Ayelew at the ceremony said, “He believed it was not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but neither are you free to stop trying.”
George Knowles is the Web Communications Associate at The American Youth Policy Forum.