Founder’s Journey: Part 2

On April 27, 2016, I shared my journey as a social entrepreneur. (Read Here:  In that personal article, I shared some of the remarkable highs and several lows that I had endured at that time as the Founder and Executive of Tomorrow’s Leaders NYC (TLNYC). Three of the most notable accomplishments back then were that we secured our highest grants in the history of TLNYC (over $100,000), saw a 95% student grade promotion rate with all enrolled students, and started the program serving over 150 students during that 4-year span.

While there have been many fantastic stories, there have also been some that were troubling. When I started Tomorrow’s Leaders, I never thought that I would witness the death of one of my students, see 15 of our former middle school students drop out of high school, and hear five different stories where our former students were arrested for crimes in-and-out of school. This tells me that more works needs to be done and I can honestly say that I need you; I can’t do this alone.

While looking to the future of our beloved organization and the community in which it serves, I think it’s important to re-examine our mission.

As you may or may not be aware, Tomorrow’s Leaders NYC is mission-driven 501(C)3 organization that helps over-age middle schoolers overcome social, emotional, and academic challenges so they can become positive and productive leaders of their community. While enrolled in the program TLNYC students – students from East New York and the South Bronx that have been held back in school two or more times – receive free services during both the school day program and after-school program that helps improve their course grades, leadership, critical thinking, and interpersonal skills. Services include but are not limited to, academic support, mentoring, and community service opportunities.

These programs would not exist without friends, family, peers and, colleagues like you. But before talking about how your assistance can support our student’s growth, I want you to close your eyes for one minute. Now, imagine being a 15- or 16-year-old in the same class as 11- or 12-year olds.

Yes… you were held back.

Yes… you are nine times out of ten physically and socially different than your classmates.

Yes… you may have lost several of your peers or family members to violence.

And yes… this situation or parts of this situation may have been out of your control.

The feelings that you felt while you imagined this were real. Imagine those same emotions in the mind of a child that just wants to create their own success story. We, the program staff of TLNYC, see these feeling and emotions manifest in hundreds of different ways and work closely with our leaders through various internal and external support systems.

Queue tape… This is where YOU come into the picture.

Volunteer Mentors Needed: Volunteer mentors are the lifeline of TLNYC. Without them, many students would not be able to see ‘possible’ as they have been confronted with ‘not so possible’ most of their lives. A great example is our amazing Alumna Nechelle Clinkscales. Nechelle was a 15-year-old 7th grader. With the help of TLNYC and her volunteer mentor, she graduated high school with her age mates in record time. Click here to view her story:

More Teacher and Principle Support: Principals and administrators have become one of TLNYC advocates. This advocacy has gone as far as requesting the program to support chronically absent students and requesting that we share our best practices at various school meetings and town halls. The key is that it doesn’t stop here. These stories, tips, tricks, and best practices should be shared more. A great example can be seen in the 12 tips our leaders use when they study:

Additional Community Support: Community support comes in many different shapes and forms; monetary donations, tools the program can utilize, speakers for enrichment days, etc. Click here to see pictures from our most recent #TLNYCLeaderTalk with Donshea Hopkins from Power: I believe in my heart that we all want to see a better future for our youth and our city. The best way to ensure this is to invest in them. The key is not turning a blind eye to the various barriers (visible, nonvisible, or systematic) that your youth face. Join TLNYC as we work alongside our leaders to help them conquer anything that is standing in their way.

Issue Advocacy: Over-age students do not normally get the resources and tools they need to move towards success. For example, last year there were close to 8,000 middle school students who were two or more years older than their current classmates. Out of that number, less than 400 students received formal support systems. If this number is upsetting, get involved today. Your support can change this.

Foundation Support: Recently, we expanded to the South Bronx and now serve 150 students between both boroughs. When looking at East New York and the South Bronx, it’s important to note that these areas are noted as having the highest poverty, crime, and dropout rates in New York City. Nonetheless, last year 71% of our leader’s grade point average’s increased, 94% were promoted to the next grade, and 50 students graduated from middle school. Oddly enough, with these successes and five alumni high school graduates this year, the program has been turned down for 75% of the grants that we applied for.

TLNYC teaches our leaders the words of an old quote that says “Be strong enough to stand alone, smart enough to know when you need help, and brave enough to ask for it.”

So, with this heartfelt note, I am asking you – my colleagues, friends, family, and peers – to support the leaders of TLNYC. Fighting for what you believe in during life may be hard but people can only support you if they know your circumstance.

To learn more about our TLNYC, visit To get involved, volunteer, or share information or resources that could be of benefit to the students, send us a note by visiting or email

With Respect,


Toyin Ayanfodun, Executive Director & Founder