SYF’s Testimonial Thursday – Sage A.,















Graduation Speech by Sage A.
2017 Simon Youth Judson Learning Academy at Rolling Oaks Mall

Good evening and welcome family, friends, and most importantly, my fellow graduates of 2017! I am honored to stand before all of you tonight speaking on behalf of my class.  I know everyone here has worked extremely hard in order to be on this stage tonight. With that said, I also know that a lot of us would not be here today if not given the chance by the Judson Learning Academy. You see, JLA is not a school that just anyone can attend; it is a school like no other, a school that thrives from improving the educational opportunities of “at-risk “youth.

You may be asking yourselves what I mean when I say “at-risk youth”. Simply put, we are the example.  At some point in our educational careers, we all fell behind, so much so that without this school most, if not all of us, would not be here today. However, we are defined by the choices we make now, not the mistakes made in the past. We chose to leave that life behind us, in order to come to JLA, and become high school graduates.

Now, don’t get me wrong…that doesn’t mean it was a walk in the park. I still have reoccurring nightmares of all the modules we had to go through, so many paper cuts! But it was all worth it, not only for us now, but for our future. We still have a long road in front of us. Although we are all adults, we are only now able to close the final chapters of our childhood.

We will leave here today excited, proud, and ready to take on the world! To my fellow graduates, I ask each of you to remember how great this feeling is and whenever you come to a fork in the road, just remember this day and what you have accomplished to keep moving forward! So be proud of yourselves and most of all…enjoy the moment that you walk down this stage. I hope that the choices you make going forward reflect the choices you made this year.

To everyone who came out to support us, I hope you are able to enjoy watching us, the “at risk” students, beat the odds and finally receive our diplomas. Each student in this room deserves a pat on the back for hanging in there and defying the odds.

Thank you JLA for having the patience and optimism for a student like me, a former drop out and now father, and giving me the opportunity to come out here on this stage and talk with honor and dignity on behalf of my class as I receive my high school diploma. Allowing me to not only make myself; but my family proud, and for that, I will forever be grateful!

And finally, thank you all for showing us your support and giving me your time. Congratulations once again, class of 2017!

In Blog

2017 Masquerade Honors John and Sarah Lechleiter

Long-time Indianapolis civic leaders and philanthropists Sarah and John Lechleiter will be honored at the 16th Masquerade on Saturday, Oct. 14, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The Masquerade, a premier date on the Indianapolis’ fall social scene, is the signature fundraising event of Simon Youth Foundation and Pacers Foundation and has raised nearly $11 million for the two organizations since its inception. Both work to ensure youth in need, in Indiana and across the country, are given education and other opportunities to better their lives. The Masquerade has dazzled attendees over the years with top-tier entertainment and high-profile attendees.

The Lechleiters are being recognized for their years of civic activities and other efforts that have strengthened the Indianapolis community.

Currently, Sarah serves on the boards of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Indiana Repertory Theatre.  Sarah was a founding member and served as chair for what is now United Way of Central Indiana’s Women United, as well as Women of Tocqueville.  She is a sustaining member of the Children’s Museum Guild, the St. Augustine Guild of the Little Sisters of the Poor, and the Proctor Club.

Sarah graduated in 1976 with a degree in Sociology and Social Welfare from Edgecliff College, which is now part of Xavier University in Cincinnati.

John Lechleiter has served as chairman of the board of directors of Eli Lilly and Company since January 1, 2009. He retired as Lilly’s president and chief executive officer on December 31, 2016, after 37 years with the company.  He joined Lilly in 1979 as a senior organic chemist in process research and development.  In 2005, he was named Lilly’s president and chief operating officer and joined the board of directors.  He became CEO on April 1, 2008.

John earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Xavier University in 1975 and master’s and doctoral degrees in organic chemistry from Harvard University.  He has received honorary doctorates from Marian University (Indianapolis, Indiana), the University of Indianapolis, the National University of Ireland, Indiana University, Franklin College, and Purdue University.

John is a member of the American Chemical Society. He is chairman of the board of United Way Worldwide and serves as vice chair of the board of the Chemical Heritage Foundation.  He is a member emeritus of the board of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership.  John also serves on the boards of Nike, Inc. and Ford Motor Company.

In addition to their individual accomplishments, Sarah and John together chaired the 75th Anniversary Gala for Marian University and have been deeply involved in the United Way of Central Indiana’s efforts to strengthen early childhood education and support families.  The Lechleiters are proud parents of three children and grandparents of six.

“We are deeply gratified that we can honor the Lechleiters for their profound impact on our community,” said Masquerade Co-Chair Cindy Simon Skjodt. “The proceeds of this event go directly to benefit of youth both nationally and here in Indiana and have created opportunities and better lives many times over.”

Last year’s Masquerade honoree was Indiana Pacers Vice President of Communications and Fox Sports Indiana Pacers television analyst Quinn Bucker. Previous honorees include Jim Morris, Larry Bird, Deborah J. Simon, Cindy Simon Skjodt, Tamika Catchings, Rick Fuson, Steve Stitle, Frank Hancock, Jeff Smulyan, the Hulman-George Family, Melvin Simon, Herbert Simon, Reggie Miller, Bobby “Slick” Leonard, Clark Kellogg and Donnie Walsh.

The Masquerade evening will begin with a reception, followed by the dinner, tribute and live music. Special guests will include the entire Indiana Pacers team and basketball staff as well as many of the past Masquerade honorees.

The Masquerade is made possible through the generous support of many local and national sponsors. PNC Bank will return as the event’s title sponsor for the 16th year.

For ticket and sponsorship information, please contact Brandi Young at (317) 263-7694 or

ABOUT SIMON YOUTH FOUNDATION: Simon Youth Foundation, a national nonprofit headquartered in Indianapolis, exists to help at-risk students who are on the verge of dropping out of high school stay in school. Through 30 Simon Youth Academies in 12 states and Simon Youth Scholarships, SYF advocates, creates and initiates educational opportunities for students so they can start here and go anywhere. In partnership with local public schools, SYF has maintained a 90% graduation rate at its Academies since inception, graduated more than 14,000 students, and awarded more than $16 million in scholarships. Learn more at

ABOUT PACERS FOUNDATION: Pacers Foundation, Inc., the public charity founded by Pacers Sports & Entertainment, is dedicated to improving the lives of Indiana’s young people by building individual and corporate partnerships that will provide assistance for projects that benefit Indiana’s youth. Since its inception in 1993, Pacers Foundation has awarded more than $6 million in cash and in-kind donations through grants to youth-serving organizations, scholarships and Indiana Pacers and Indiana Fever tickets.

SYF Student Takes First Place in Orlando 5K Race, Mall and Academy Team Up for Success


Top row: left to right
Chris Spafford (Simon Youth Academy student), Mr. Gerald Allen (OJT teacher), Ajay Bohra (Simon Malls)
Bottom Row:
Sonia Ledger (Lead teacher), Madison Shannabrook (little ducky), Maribel Lebron (Assistant Principal)

Simon Youth Academy at Outlet Marketplace teamed up with Mall partners for the Quack Attack on Poverty 5K race on February 18, 2017.

SYF student Chris Spafford led the way coming in first place in the Juniors age division.

“We had a great time getting some fresh air early in the morning, and our student came in 1st place,” Sonia Ledger, Lead Teacher at the Academy said.

That’s an impressive accomplishment because the Quack Attack on Poverty 5K is a nontraditional race.

Participants must complete the 3.1 miles wearing a duck-shaped pool inflatable around their waists while navigating bubbles, squirt gun and wacky quack zones.

After winning his division, Chris turned around to find his team.

“Chris won first place, then ran back to find us and walked the last 2 kilometers with us,” Ajay Bohra, Assistant General Manager at Orlando International and Outlet Market Place, said.

Bohra said the relationship between SYF students and teachers is unlike other schools.

“How often do you hear of teachers and students running a race together on the weekend? Not often,” he said. “That shows how committed each are to each other.”

That unique relationship is what makes SYF teachers and students so special, Bohra said. “We do what we can to provide support, but the recognition goes to the Academy students and teachers. We see the impact SYF makes in students’ individual lives, and we’re thankful to be a part of it.”

Ledger said she appreciates the amazing support the Academy receives from the Premium Outlets team. “We loved bonding with Ajay from the Outlet Mall team. He’s such a good partner to us.”

Kappa Delta Pi Experiences Unique Learning Environment at Simon Youth Academy at Circle Centre

Left to Right: Laura Perkins, Susan Perry, Chris Beaman and Tina Paris of KDP Foundation










Leadership from Kappa Delta Pi (KDP), International Honor Society in Education, visited Simon Youth Academy at Circle Centre.

The KDP team experienced firsthand the Academy’s nontraditional learning environment and different look and feel from a traditional high school.

Laura Perkins, KDP Director of Membership & Chapter Services, said, “The architecture is amazing. It really brings the school environment to a whole new level.”

The Academy is located on the third floor of Simon Property Group’s Circle Centre Mall in Indianapolis and is designed to make students and teachers feel comfortable.

“Our space is open and flexible with bright colors that inspires student learning,” Michael Durnil, President and CEO of Simon Youth Foundation, said. “When you walk into our schools, it looks more like a modern office space than a traditional school.”

Durnil explained that everything in the classrooms are modular. “The walls, desks, and chairs are all on casters so teachers can move the furniture and use the environment in different ways,” he said.

KDP Director of Marketing & Communications Chris Beaman observed how the environment affected student and teacher interaction.

“I love seeing the students working with the teachers,” Beaman said. “It’s really encouraging to see the smiles and general happiness of the students and teachers at the Academy,” he said.

The SYF model meets KDP’s mission of “advancing quality education by inspiring teachers to prepare all learners for future challenges.”

“We let the educators educate,” Durnil said. “We support them with professional development opportunities like KDP, and then we get out of the way.”

The Foundation provides complimentary KDP membership to all SYF Academy teachers, making the SYF Affiliate chapter KDP’s largest at more than 200 members.


SYF scholarship recipient postpones higher ed for year of service in Senegal

Below is a slideshow of images from Brandon Callegari’s year of service in Senegal



When Brandon Callegari asked to defer his Simon Youth Foundation scholarship, he had a great reason. Callegari chose to spend a year serving others in Senegal.

As part of Princeton University’s Bridge Year Program, the SYF Award of Excellence scholarship recipient traveled abroad after graduation.

Staying with a host family, Callegari is immersed in the culture. He describes his time in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, as “absolutely beautiful, with amazing sunsets and lots of sand.”

Callegari said he feels welcomed by his host family and the people of Senegal. “The people here have so much kindness and hospitality,” Callegari said. “People go out of their way to help you here…helping you carry a heavy bag or helping you learn the local language.”

In addition to learning Wolof, the local language, Callegari is teaching children English through a program with the national YMCA Senegal.

SYF is proud to support Callegari during his bridge year and eager to follow his story.

SYF Scholarship Recipient Does Not Give Up

In 2015, Cherise Sheffner graduated from Coast High School in California and received a scholarship from Simon Youth Foundation.

Sheffner chose to enroll in a community college to pursue an associate degree, as she was diagnosed with a rare disease that made it difficult for her to go far from home and commit to more than a two-year program.

Earning a 3.7 GPA, Sheffner will graduate this May with an Associate Degree in Psychology from Orange Coast College.

It hasn’t been easy, but Sheffner persists. “It has been a hard couple of years,” she said. “The health troubles that I faced in high school came back. However, that has not let me give up.”

SYF’s scholarship extension opportunities enables Sheffner to apply for additional scholarship money to fund future years at a four-year institution.

Sheffner thanks Michael Durnil, SYF President and CEO, for encouraging her when she was in high school. “Your support gave me more motivation to not give up on my higher education,” she said of Durnil.

SYF congratulates Sheffner on her accomplishments and perseverance.

The Season of Giving

The following guest post was written by Brandi Young, SYF’s Vice President of Advancement.

It is my favorite times of year! I love the decorations, the atmosphere, and I love hearing all my favorite holiday tunes. One of my favorite holiday carols is “Silver Bells” by Bing Crosby.

To steal from the lyrics, when you step into a Simon mall, the holidays are definitely in the air. The malls are dressed in their own holiday style, folks passing each other from store to store, meeting smile after smile, children laughing around the holiday train and jolly St. Nick.

Even through all the bustle, Simon Malls, Premium Outlets, and The Mills, find ways to support Simon Youth Foundation. While purchasing your Simon GiftCards or other gift cards available at Simon Guest Services, you can make a donation, or make a holiday wish by dropping your extra change into a wishing well or fountain. Or, if your Simon Mall is home to holiday valet provided by Ameripark, proceeds from the valet benefit Simon Youth Foundation.

The malls’ support reaches beyond SYF too. Many malls host gift wrapping stations by partnering with local charities. So before you rush home with your treasures, find the gift wrap station and not only support SYF, but a hometown charity.

December is a season of giving. While it’s common these days to get frustrated with the commercializing of the holidays, it’s good to be affiliated with a company in Simon that views the season as a time to be generous and give back to the community.

Wishing you and yours the merriest of holiday seasons!


On Remembrance and Thanksgiving

The following guest post was written by, Michael Durnil, President and CEO at SYF.

If you have been a regular reader of the SYF blog, you will have caught on to the fact that each month we have asked a member of the staff to be a contributing writer. I was thrilled this year when I was assigned the month of November.

November has long been the month of the year often associated with remembrance and thanksgiving; driven in part by two very iconic American holidays – Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving. And while I could give you several paragraphs about my thoughts for those themes, I am going to use a bit of dramatic license and co-op those themes into how I see them come to life in the workings of Simon Youth Foundation.

Fall is the busiest season for us at SYF. Amid the regular routine of back to school, our annual conference, the coming year’s budget preparation, committee and board meetings, SYF also is the beneficiary of several large scale fundraising events hosted within the Simon Corporation. In fact, the Foundation raises nearly 75% of our operational budget in the last quarter of the year through these events.

Through the generosity of our Simon colleagues, several regional fundraisers are hosted across the country. I am thrilled to report that these are on track to raise over $1.2 million dollars in 2016. In Foundation terms, that represents enough donations to help SYF see a years worth of Simon Youth Academy seniors to graduation day. Additionally, our Simon colleagues participate in our Employee Contribution Campaign which showers our mission with an embarrassment of riches – moneys from our colleagues own pockets that serve as a testament to their belief in the work of our students, teachers and staff across the country. I have the great privilege to represent the Foundation at many of these events. While it is easy to recite the chapter and verse of the statistics that we know about our work, for me it is the ability to tell the story of our students, our partner teachers and the impact that such giving has on all of us.

Telling our stories, remembrance if you will, reminds me of what our work is all about.

As I tell the stories about our students and their great ability to overcome the overwhelming challenges they face, I catch myself letting my mind wander and thinking about the nearly 8500 graduate’s hands I have been so fortunate to shake over the last several years. I try to remember as many of the graduation speeches as I can. Sometimes, I will see faces or have flashes of moments of conversations with a graduate and their family; but what I often remember most is the feeling of joy for them, what they have accomplished and now what possibilities lay ahead for them.

This time of year, too, allows me to acknowledge and celebrate the great thanksgiving for the generosity of all of our donors. While I tell all our donors about the impact of their gift, it is easy for them to see how a donation can impact a single student. What I want our supporters to know is that their donation isn’t just a one-time thing, but rather an investment in the future.

So in this season of remembrance and thanksgiving, I challenge all of us to fully appreciate what cumulative impact our graduates and scholarship recipients have in our communities. While we use our resources to provide programs in the present; the true fact is that we do not know where or how the investments in our students will show dividends in the future. In fact, our donor’s gifts multiply exponentially when they invest in SYF’s students, faculty and staff.

This is SYF’s “butterfly effect”.

Definitely something to remember and be thankful for this season!

Looking Back to Help Students Look Forward

The following guest post was written by Amy Updike, Vice President, Finance and Administration at SYF.

2016 is the State of Indiana’s bicentennial. On June 24, 2016, I had the privilege of attending a bicentennial ceremony honoring one of the 43 delegates to draft and sign the Indiana State Constitution, my 4th great-grandfather William Cotton. Two areas William Cotton was passionate about were (1) freedom for all – slavery should never be allowed in Indiana and (2) the creation of a “general system of education, ascending in regular gradation from township schools to a state university wherein tuition shall be gratis and equally open to all.”

I am proud of my ancestor and proud that he was able to include the most important of his two passions in drafting Indiana’s Constitution in 1816– anti-slavery. As with so many of our Simon Youth Academy students, William began his life in Indiana with very little, and yet he had such a profound impact of the founding of a State that is still going strong 200 years later. When William and his wife first came to Indiana, they lived in a large hollowed out tree while they cleared land to build a cabin. I can only imagine the primitive conditions they encountered. When their son was born, his playmates were the Native American children in the area. William’s secret to success was that he was educated and hardworking.

Students at Simon Youth Academies come from a variety of backgrounds. For one reason or another, they have fallen behind their class in their traditional public schools. However, each school year proves our students, many of whom seriously considered dropping out, have become both educated and hardworking. Since SYF’s founding, our students have achieved a 90% graduation rate. Many of our academy students face daunting health issues, have children of their own, or work support their families. The hard work and perseverance they display in juggling these challenges while studying at an accelerated pace to catch up with their graduating class is truly inspiring. Many of our students also go on to pursue higher education with the financial aid of a Simon Academy Scholarship. One Simon Youth Academy graduate and scholarship recipient is currently a junior studying Pre-Med in college. Nichole has already had a tremendous impact on her family and classmates. Other academy graduates are serving our country in the Armed Forces and still another has been the Mayor of Kirby, Texas.

When I look back with pride for what my ancestor was able to accomplish in the creation of the State of Indiana, I can’t help but look forward and imagine the impact our Simon Youth Academy students will have on their families, friends and the larger community. To learn more about Simon Youth Foundation and our academies and scholarship programs and to donate to help SYF reach even more students, please go to

No Bad Kids

Leila Robbins has an insatiable love of learning. Her boundless curiosity has her catapulting between subjects almost faster than her teachers can keep up, and when flipping through a course catalog from a nearby community college, she struggles to decide on just one or two classes to enroll in.

But just a short time ago, Leila was so leila-robbins-rose-tree-mediadisengaged from traditional public school, that the former star student had become one of the 1.2 million students who drop out each year. How did it happen?

“I started believing what I was hearing,” said Leila. “That I really was a bad kid.”

Though Leila excelled in school as a young girl, she began struggling from anxiety in third grade. She begged her parents to let her stay home, or found herself visiting the school nurse, hoping for a reprieve, just for the day. But avoiding school at all costs caused Leila to struggle academically, which only fed the anxiety. As the absences piled up, Leila said she felt even the office staff at her school begin to lose patience. Absences led to detentions, which snowballed into suspensions, and by fifth grade, she was in court for being truant.

In middle school, she began seeing a therapist, but the classroom, once a place of joy and discovery for Leila, continued to trigger her mental and emotional struggles. Finally, her therapist advised her parents to remove Leila from school all together. Relieved to be free from the pressures of traditional school, Leila finally gave up.

“I didn’t make any more plans for my future,” said Leila. “I didn’t plan to have a future.”

But a break in the darkness finally came when a social worker suggested that she look into Simon Youth Academy at Rose Tree Media. Though she was skeptical to return to the the classroom environment, Leila decided to give herself one more chance at a future.

At Rose Tree Media, Leila’s love of learning was reignited. Today, Leila has made up for lost time, and is on track to graduate early. She has already begun taking classes at the Delaware County Community College, and has her sights set on a career in healing. But it’s what she has learned about herself, rather than any school subject, that is the most important lesson of all:

“There are no bad kids,” said Lelia. “Only lost ones.”

Leila, fortunately, is no longer lost, after finding a home at SYF.

SYF Students are Ready for Their Close Up!

Simon Youth Foundation is committed to supporting not only high school graduates, but contributing members of society who will positively impact their communities for years to come. By exposing our students to educational and professional development opportunities both in and outside the classroom, we aim to broaden their horizons and impact their worldview. In 2015, we launched the Simon Youth Academies- Civic Leadership Program (CLP) to present opportunities for students to understand their role in society, an
d better learn how to effect change.1231

One program offered through CLP is Close Up, a non-profit, non-partisan foundation that serves to “inform, inspire and empower young people to understand and embrace the rights and responsibilities of active citizenship.” Close Up’s primary purpose is to complement what the students have learned in a classroom with experiential learning to help the kids understand their government on a deeper, comprehensive level. Since its beginning in 1971, the Close Up Foundation has given over 800,000 students and educators an in-depth look at government and politics.

Participating students spend a week in Washington, DC, experiencing visits to multiple museums and monuments; workshops; lectures; debates; and even a meeting with congressional representatives, all of which are guided by trained professionals who are experts in their fields. Students are encouraged to learn how to form their own, reasoned opinions about government happenings, effectively communicate their viewpoints to others, and have civil discussions with others who might have differing opinions.  As the trip draws to an end, students work together to formulate constructive ideas for a community project, and are encouraged to bring those ideas to life when they return home.

Each Simon Youth Academy can apply to be a part of the program; however, only about 25 spots are available for students. The chosen academies will then select four student leaders to attend with one chaperone that will get to participate in the teacher portion of the program.  Students interested in the program must be in good academic and behavioral standing with his or her Academy. Academies establish their own criteria for selecting students to participate.  Many utilize an application process that may include essays, interviews, leadership skills, and community service.
“A lot of our students come to us feeling disengaged not just from the high school experience, but from their communities as well. Close Up helps teach our students the importance of civic engagement, and empowers them to go home and make a difference in their community,” said SYF Programs Coordinator Kimb Stewart.

In June 2016, 23 students from five Simon Youth Academies participated in Close Up.  Academies selected to participate were Simon Youth Academy at Coast High School, Huntington Beach, California; Simon Youth Academy at Outlet Marketplace, Orlando, Florida; Simon Youth Career Quest Academy at Port Charlotte Town Center, Port Charlotte, Florida; Simon Youth Academy at Edinburgh Premium Outlets, Edinburgh, Indiana; and Simon Youth Academy at Circle Centre, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Close Up’s motto is, “What happens here can change your world!” and for many of our students we can see the change starting to take place during the week.  One of our Indianapolis students experienced many firsts during her trip to Washington, D.C., including her first trip on a plane.  She also unexpectedly ran into a family friend while walking along the mall.  Many aspects of the trip were eye opening to her, particularly visiting with a Senator and the Representative from her district.  At the end of the week, though, she was so impressed by the staff and the learning experience; she expressed interest in becoming part of the Close Up team, as soon as she completes her college education.  She wants to help other students have the same impactful, eye-opening experience she did.

Our students from Florida departed for the trip with heavy hearts.  They left for Washington, D.C. while news reports were still coming in about the shooting at an Orlando nightclub during the early morning hours.  While they were looking forward to their meeting with Senator Bill Nelson, they saw him in action instead.  They watched as he and his colleagues debated restricting access to weapons like the ones used in the nightclub. Being on hand to see the debate was very impactful for them.


To learn more about Close Up, visit

My Summer at SYF

Doc1My name is Allison and I spent this summer as a communications intern for Simon Youth Foundation. On my third day here at SYF, I decided to write down my thoughts about the job so far. This is what I wrote:

“Today is my third day working as a SYF Communications Intern. I’ll admit that I was very nervous to begin this job, because I have never worked in a business setting like this before; however, I am absolutely blown away by the mission of this nonprofit and the people who are behind it all. I feel lucky to be able to learn from this staff to better myself personally and professionally.”

The same ideas that I wrote on my third day here remained true through my last week with SYF.

This fall, I will be a senior at Indiana University studying Journalism and Public Relations. While at school, I’m involved with a few different student organizations, all with the same focus: improving the lives of children. Through my experiences with those organizations, I found that I could make a career out of helping people and decided that’s exactly what I want to do with my life.

It felt like fate when I found the SYF internship listing, involving the combination of education and fundraising, two of the things I enjoy most.

I was elated when I got the job because I knew it had the potential to change my life and I truly believe that it has.

From the moment I stepped into the SYF office, I knew that this was where I needed to be. All of the SYF staff was extremely welcoming and willing to help me learn every single day that I spent here. I often tell my friends and family that I’ve learned more from the people that I work with than the actual job itself. I think that speaks volumes to the types of individuals who lead Simon Youth Foundation and make it the incredible organization that it is.

Every single person on the SYF staff has impacted my time here- something I am very grateful for.

I’ve learned an immense amount about the nonprofit world during my time here, but the largest takeaway that I’ve found at SYF this summer is the magnitude of generosity you can find if you simply ask.

I have had the privilege of meeting so many incredible people involved with the Academies, including educators and students. Witnessing the commitment and passion behind this mission, on every level, has inspired me to truly find my own passion and see where that can take me in terms of helping as many people as possible during my career.

I’ve also had the opportunity to interact with people in our community who support SYF such as Simon employees, sponsors and volunteers. Through these conversations, I’ve learned how generous people in the community can be, which gives me a great amount of hope for the future.

Now that my time here has come to an end, I am so thankful for my experience with SYF. My entire life, I was unsure of what I wanted to do and what I was capable of doing in my lifetime. This internship has opened my eyes and pushed me to find things that I care about and find how I can work to better them. Within this small office of 11 professionals, I have learned that with hard work, passion and determination, you can change someone’s story and help them reach a better future.

A friend once told me, “It only takes one person to completely change someone’s life.”

This idea is demonstrated every single day at each of the 29 Simon Youth Academies. Because of SYF, I am confident that I can be that one person and make a positive impact wherever I go. I’m leaving this internship feeling so inspired. I feel so lucky to have had a small role in the efforts of this monumental organization.

SYF Scholarships Helping Students in Every Corner of the U.S.

“I am extremely privileged to have SYF as one of the angel investors in my post-secondary education.” –Lei Lily Tam, SYF Community Scholarship Recipient

SYF provides scholarships to students who live near every Simon mall in the United States. That means your donations are helping students all over the map.

Lei Lily Tam spent the first half of her life at a private international boarding school in China on a full scholarship. Tam says that this school provided her with the environment to grow up bilingually while her parents worked for a Chinese company. She later moved to Hawaii and began her time with the Moanalua school system, near Waikele Premium Outlets. Lei Lily graduated from Moanalua High School in Honolulu, Hawaii earlier this year. As a first-generation college student, Lei Lily has been accepted to the University of Southern California and will attend classes in the fall to study Industrial and Systems Engineering.

Despite all of her success as a student, one harsh reality that Lei Lily learned through living on the island was that students in Hawaii aren’t always connected with the continental U.S. In terms of programs; they are often not afforded the same opportunities as other students.

The same could be said about students in the state of Alaska. Amir Williams grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, but always dreamed about going out of state for college. This year, SYF and Anchorage 5th Avenue Mall  awarded a Simon Youth Community Scholarship to help her achieve that dream.

Amir will attend Kansas State University in the fall to study Engineering and Education. She hopes to serve as a role model to other girls who wish to pursue the STEM field of study.

Similarly, there are students in Puerto Rico who have been touched by Simon Youth Foundation as well. Priscilla Soler was born and raised in Puerto Rico, where she developed a love for helping people. Priscilla was awarded a Simon Youth Foundation Community Scholarship by Plaza Carolina, which will help her reach her dreams of becoming a pharmacist. She will attend University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez to study Chemistry.

Simon Youth Foundation takes pride in the fact that our scholarships extend all over the country. In our 18-year history, SYF has awarded scholarships to students in 46 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. These scholarships have provided nearly $16 million to more than 14,000 students.

We have a great amount of diversity within our scholarship program. Out of more than 300 students selected for awards in 2016, we will have an SYF recipient at all 8 Ivy League Institutions, and more than 10 students attending Big Ten universities. There are also many SYF recipients at institutions all over the nation who are first generation college students.

With the help of many gracious SYF donors, Lei Lily, Amir, and many others can continue on their path toward higher education and a successful future regardless of their circumstances. Not only are we hoping to improve the lives of at-risk youth, but also relieve deserving students of financial uneasiness all over the nation.

After being involved with SYF, we hope these students and their families can inform other families of our mission—which will result in the growth of our organization and impact in years to come.

Coast High School Academy Encourages Science Through Local Competitions

In March, students at Simon Youth Coast High School Academy in Huntington Beach, California participated in Physics Day at Knott’s Berry Farm. A group of 7 STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) students spent the entire day working together to formulate solutions and solve problems involving different physics principles.

The day included a variety of different activities including conversion and Fermi puzzles, a paper airplane contest, and a paper tower building contest. The most popular activity, however, was the 2nd annual Build Your Own Rollercoaster Contest.

This is the first year that our Coast High School Academy students have participated in the Physics Day competitions, but the results do not reflect that at all! This team of student physicists took home both first and second place prizes for the Best Overall Paper Roller Coaster.


Additionally, the team participated in the Solar Cup, the nation’s largest solar-powered boat competition. Check out our recap of last year’s event here:

The Coast team did extremely well with this contest, winning 4 different awards. The team claimed first place in three different South County Region categories: Endurance Race, Outreach Project and Technical Reports. They also took home the Bart Bezyack Sportsmanship Award.

Overall, the team took 3rd place among 39 other California high schools, an accomplishment to be extremely proud of.

We are so proud of all of our students who are finding ways to learn, both inside and outside of the classroom. Congratulations to our Coast High School Academy students who found great success in both the Knott’s Berry Farm Physics Day and Solar Cup science competitions!


Below is a slideshow of the participants.



2016 Tees For Education

Below is a slideshow of images from our 9th annual Tees for Education golf outing!



Student Spotlight: Brandon & the Princeton Bridge Year Program

While most high school graduates are spending the summer preparing for college or entering the workforce, Brandon Callegari is preparing for a trip to Senegal, West Africa.

Brandon, 2016 SYF Award of Excellence scholar from Deltona, Florida, was one of only 35 students nationwide selected to participate in Princeton’s Bridge Year Program.

Gap  year programs are often meant to give students a break from the traditional academic schedule; generally between the completion of high school and the start of college. During this time period, students usually participate in some sort of travel or volunteer work in order to better prepare themselves for the coming years.

Princeton selects a group of students to travel abroad in a cultural immersion program to perform community service projects in 5 different countries. This year, the program selected 35 students of the newly-admitted freshmen class to participate in Bolivia, Brazil, China, India and Senegal.

Brandon will spend 9 months in Senegal, West Africa, where he will live with a host family, take intensive language courses in both French and Wolof (the local language) and participate in community service daily. Brandon says he is looking forward to “[being] entirely immersed in a new and diverse culture that is nothing like the culture found in the United States.”

This program provides a unique experience for the students involved; offering a different perspective on life, learning and culture.

After his time in Senegal, Brandon will return to the United States to pursue a degree in Biology or Environmental Sciences at Princeton.

When asked what his goals for the future were, Brandon said, “I am open to any career. It is possible that I may find a new passion during my stay in Senegal… However, my ultimate goal is to positively impact as many lives as I can. I hope to leave the world better off than before I entered it.”

For more information on our scholarship programs or to share your story with how you’re using your scholarship, please visit



What I Learned From Book Club

The following guest post was written by Malika Stultz, Executive Administrative Assistant at SYF.

Here at Simon Youth Foundation (SYF) we are reading “Presence” by Amy Cuddy for professional development. The book talks about what it means to be present – from our listening habits to our body language – and how that changes the way we work and live.

As we read and discussed the book, I couldn’t help but think of our students.

Being present means making the effort to listen to one another and live in the moment. Many of us plan so far in advance that sometimes we forget to stay focused in our daily tasks. When it comes to being present, I wonder if the students at our Academies know something we don’t.

Our students come to SYF with very little hope for the future. They have been led to believe their whole lives that they do not measure up, or that they don’t have much to look forward to. Yet each one of them has made the decision to stick it out and graduate from high school.

They have no choice but to be present in the moment. If they don’t pass that algebra exam or get their last English credit, their future options will be limited. So they dream of the future but work hard for today. I am inspired by that.

The book has shown us how important it is to believe and own our own stories, to stop preaching, and start listening, and how to coach ourselves through the times when we feel as though we don’t deserve to be here. Some of our students may also feel like they don’t deserve a second chance, but with the guidance of our academy staff I hope that they are realizing that because they have chosen not to give up they deserve everything that much more.

There is also a section of the book that demonstrates certain poses that reflect being powerful, and being powerless. Crossing your arms or not looking someone else in the eye can convey powerlessness. We hear regularly that these poses are how our students enter the Academy. By the time they leave, they have renewed confidence that you can see in how they carry themselves.

While this book is not the easiest to digest, it has made us think beyond our own personal selves, and has forced us to think about our students and how maybe using and teaching them some of these techniques may help them on a daily basis. If anything, it makes me want to imagine how they interpret their best selves.

Enhancing Simon Youth Academies: One Grant at a Time

Each year, Simon Youth Foundation provides enhancement grants to our Simon Youth Academies that allow the schools to buy new supplies, create new programs, or enhance programs already in place. The academies rely on these grants each year to improve overall student experience.

For the first time this year, academies were able to use the results of the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s (CEP) YouthTruth survey ( to inform their grant application. In 2015, Simon Youth Academy students completed the CEP YouthTruth survey as a way to report the students’ satisfaction with our grant program. While our academies partnerships performed well, there was room for improvement in mental health awareness and peer-to-peer relationships sections. Simon Youth Rose Tree Media Academy, located in Media, Pennsylvania, is an example of one partner utilizing the grant to address these issues.

Many high school students deal with large amounts of anxiety or stress while working toward their diploma. In order to ease these feelings as much as possible, the Academy will begin providing the students with mental health mindfulness workshops. During these sessions, students can learn the importance of understanding mental health and how to better deal with anxious or stressful situations. The academy hopes for higher attendance rates and happier students as a result of these sessions.

In order to emphasize unity between students, the Academy hopes to participate in teambuilding activities with the help of a Simon Youth Foundation Enhancement Grant. This portion of the grant will fund a workshop at The University of Pennsylvania, where students will learn the value of working as a team. These skills are important for students, especially those who plan to continue their education after high school.

Also using funds from this grant, the school hopes to help students find their passion and appreciation for the arts through an enrichment program at Community Arts Center. Students enjoyed working with a local artist in previous years, which is why this program is important to this academy in 2016.

All of these programs will be beneficial to students, which exemplifies the importance that these grants have, not only on the Simon Youth Academies and their students, but also on the communities that they reside in.

Although Simon Youth Foundation provides funds used for improvements for the academies, it is imperative that the surrounding communities get involved and help improve the academies as well.

Earlier this year, Pennsylvania Association of School Retirees, Delaware County Chapter awarded a grant to Simon Youth Rose Tree Media Academy. This grant was provided to the academy to make the school “feel like home” by displaying art around the school. With the help of other community organizations, the academies can improve each year and continue to better the lives of the students at Simon Youth Academies.

Community involvement is important for the success of our students. To get involved in a community near you, please visit