Fifty summers ago two Columbia College undergraduates had an idea for making their community a better place. Roger Lehecka CC’67, GSAS’74 and Steven Weinberg CC’66, GSAPP’68 started a tutoring program for high school students from Harlem and the surrounding areas hosted by Columbia. By the following summer, this program had been dubbed Project Double Discovery. Today we know it as the Double Discovery Center.
“DDC has a long legacy,” says Yvonne Maldonado Hart CC’95, TC’02, a graduate of DDC’sTalent Search Program Class of 1991 who was DDC’s assistant director from 2002 to 2006. “I am proud to be an alumna [of DDC]. It made a big difference in my life,” Hart says. “We are the first ones in our families to go to college. If it was not for DDC, we wouldn’t go… We wouldn’t make it out.”
Hart is one of the more than 12,000 students who found a home and the support needed to achieve her dreams at DDC. In 2014 alone, DDC will serve approximately 1,000 low-income, first generation and minority students. DDC Executive Director Joseph Ayala CC’94 estimates that DDC will need as many as 300 volunteers in the coming academic year to tutor and mentor students, and would love to have more College alumni on the volunteer roster.
DDC’s mission has always been twofold, as “double discovery” implies: to help economically challenged students discover educational paths and to help volunteers cultivate civic responsibility. “Double Discovery is a model for bridging what in some arenas seems like a really edified social boundary,” Ayala says.
Hart has experienced this bridge personally. She was a DDC student, a DDC volunteer tutor as an undergraduate, a DDC counselor post-graduation and later its assistant director.
She says that she is grateful to DDC for inspiring her to apply to Columbia and Williams and also for helping to give her the tools to do so successfully. “My high school counselor discouraged me and told me I was not smart enough," she says. "At DDC I did not get that negative message. Instead, my counselor and the staff at DDC pushed me to dream and supported me through the process.”
Hart, after earning an M.S.W. from Washington University in 2007, now is director of youth development at Kingdom House in St. Louis, Mo. She says DDC will always be an important part of her life and a place where she found support, discovered her passion for serving youth and knows she made a difference. “It is amazing seeing students with whom I worked sticking it out and then seeing them get accepted to college, going to graduate school and becoming professionals doing great work. I have three degrees, and some of them have already caught up to me.”
You too can help young people with big dreams by volunteering for DDC. Visit the “Volunteer for DDC” page on DDC’s website. The page also provides resources for volunteer tutors, such as educational information to help tutors refresh on material.