How the Chappaqua Summer Scholarship Program helped save my life
Still Needed: Host families for CSSP students, only ten weekdays will do; sessions begin Jul. 1 or 15
The author with second-mom Nancy Stein, at last year’s CSSP graduation
Monday, June 25, 2012
by Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
The Chappaqua Summer Scholarship Program was really a godsend. I got a great summer education, earned some college credits and developed indispensable business skills. But the people that became like family literally helped save my life.
When I started CSSP I was fifteen years old! I’m nearly 36 and I can remember my time there, the fun I had in classes and with the other students, the head start on adult life, my CSSP host families. A couple families and I still talk. When I visit family in NYC, I try to get together with them. And we keep in touch through email and Facebook.
During my time in CSSP, my Mother was ill. She ended up passing away after my final CSSP summer. It was an extremely difficult time. CSSP was one of the resources I turned to when grieving over my Mother got difficult to handle on my own. I felt like I could confide in my CSSP host families and teachers because of the relationships we had built over the years. Even when I was in college and wanted a respite, I could return to the CSSP people who had long since become friends and family.
The CSSP program has had such an impact on my life, I can’t think of how’d I’d be if I hadn’t gone!
Where was your home and what were your home and school like?
By the time I started CSSP, I was living in the Parkside Housing Projects along the Bronx River Parkway. I was going to school in the South Bronx. At home it was just my Mother and I; my parents had divorced when I was 2. I was a pretty good kid so I never got in trouble. My Mother and I spoke as adults most of time. We would regularly have debates and discussions. I was nearly always allowed to formulate and express my own opinion even if it was different from Mother’s, though she was still pretty strict about homework and curfews!
My schooling was great. From elementary through junior high school I was in regular public schools in The Bronx and Manhattan. In high school my Mother wanted me to go somewhere other than my zoned school. She worked for the Hostos Community College in the South Bronx, which had the satellite high school Hostos Lincoln Academy of Science, right inside of its walls. She petitioned the high school and they accepted me. Looking back, I know that really made a huge difference in my education. If I had gone to my zoned school, I would have been one of thousands. But at Hostos, I was one of a few dozen. I absolutely loved my high school. And of course, I got the opportunity to attend CSSP. Whenever I am back in the City, I try to swing by the school and see my old teachers and speak to the kids.
I’m sad to think my situation was uncommon. Although I grew up attending public schools in New York City (sometimes in some rough neighborhoods), and lived in the projects most of my adolescent life, home and school were both really great. I was never bullied in school. Mom wasn’t a junkie, or an absent parent. We weren’t even on welfare till she got really sick and couldn’t work anymore.
My Mother kept things really smooth at home when she could. It was as if she made sure the reality of where we lived didn’t intrude on the bubble of calm and safety she was trying to create. I think she succeeded most of the time. She always made sure I had what I needed. She always made sure education was a top priority. I think mostly she tried to make sure I could see that where we lived, and what was happening in our environment at the time, wasn’t all there was. There was more outside of rundown public schools and life in the projects. I always felt she wanted more for herself, and if that wasn’t going to happen, then I was going to get and be more instead.
Were you conflicted at the time about leaving to live here in Chappaqua while your mom was ailing?
I was! Absolutely! But education was HUGE to my Mother. By the time she was sick enough to know she wasn’t going to make it, she told me there were three things she wanted me to accomplish: graduate high school, go to college and get out of NYC. But even before high school, my education was of paramount importance to her. She had a very hands-on approach. Though, I have to admit, it was annoying when I’d come home with a 98 on a test and she’d say, “Where are the other 2 points?” I still remember that!
I would say my Mother was overzealously pushy and demanding about school. She accepted nothing less than what she thought was the best. She wholeheartedly believed education would be my ticket out of the projects, out of the City.
When CSSP came along she was ecstatic. There was no question that I would attend. And the first two summers were fine. She was still healthy enough to be on her own. At that time I didn’t even know she was sick. It wasn’t until my last CSSP summer, in 1994, that things got really bad. I didn’t want to leave her alone and sick. But she insisted I finish the program. She called my Aunt and asked for my cousin to come stay with her while I finished CSSP.
My cousin came up from North Carolina, spending the summer looking after my Mother on the weekdays, till I could help on the weekends. We did that till the end. I cried during my speech at the CSSP graduation because my mother couldn’t be there. All that time in the program, all the support she gave, the sacrifices and she wouldn’t get to see me graduate. I was devastated.
How did you learn about CSSP?
I found out about CSSP, I want to say, in early 1992, spring of my freshman year. I don’t remember the specifics, but I remember one of the school administrators wanted to make sure I participated. I remember some of the CSSP people coming to the school interviewing a bunch of kids. I can’t remember if there was an application, or an essay (though there must have been) but I distinctly remember meeting Mrs. Stein. We’ve been in each other’s lives ever since. She is like a second Mom to me, a mentor, a life guide. She’s one of the most influential people in my life. She still lives here in Chappaqua and she’s still involved with CSSP.
What was Nancy Stein like as a second Mom?
Mrs. Stein (whom I still can’t make myself call by her first name!) was supportive, encouraging, realistic. We never avoided difficult topics yet there was always a silver lining. There was never a denial that bad things happened, and would happen. But I always felt there was an absolute belief from her in the strength I had in me already. From day one, without even knowing Mrs. Stein, she made you feel that you were already a strong person, that you could make the right decisions, and figure out your path, and if at anytime you stumbled, she would help you make it the rest of the way.
What’s super funny is that the two things she always used to say that annoyed the heck out of me are things I try to use in my life regularly.
One was “Always write a thank you note.” I hated writing thank you notes when I was in CSSP. But she required you to write one to all your host families, or a special presenter. I don’t know what annoyed me about it, but I sure hated it.
I have to admit now that saying thank you in one’s personal life is a given, but I really I’ve gotten the most mileage out of that in my professional life.
How does that work?
Unless somebody does something very significant at work, saying thank you for smaller things probably isn’t always at the top of your brain. In my professional life I make a point of thanking people for things that don’t generally get recognized, for the regular, everyday mundane stuff—“Thank you for staying an hour after work,” “Thank you for making our client comfortable,” “Thank you for helping to organize the always disorganized shared work room.”
Thanking my team regularly ultimately makes my job as a project manager easier. You build those bridges and when you need something it’s that much easier to ask and get. A lot of our projects are not that wonderful. They can be difficult, time-consuming, frustrating—but because we established a cordial relationship, when those moments come and we have project difficulties, it’s a little easier to get through. When I need people to do something hard, to make the sacrifice play, they will.
“No” you already know.
The other thing Mrs. Stein always said is “’No, you already know.” Which I took to mean, if you’re unsure or scared about something, you already know what’s going to happen if you say no, or do nothing. The moment will pass and you’ll have exactly what you’ve always had: no change. Maybe that’s okay with you. But if you say yes, and try it, you might be surprised at what you get. Could be bad, could be the same, or… could be something better. It also means, if you stick with “No,” then your choice is already made for you. If you want choices, if you want to actively decide what happens in your life, then you need to do something more. That’s kind of a big deal for me. Even if I made a choice and it sucked (and they sure have sometimes!), it was all my choice, I owned it. For me that’s never bad.
Because you never know…
Near the end of 2010, while doing some project management research, I ran across a website for an event called the NASA Project Management Challenge. It was right up my alley, I’m a big aerospace nerd, but there was no information on cost or dates and if attendees could be from outside the aerospace field.
I sent the event coordinators an email introducing myself and asking my questions. They wrote back. Not only was the event free, and open to project managers from outside aerospace, but they invited me to speak on a panel!
Not quite knowing what I’d gotten myself into, I wanted to immediately say “No,” I can’t talk on an aerospace panel! And just as quickly as that thought came, I remembered Mrs. Stein’s advice. I accepted the invite. I spoke on the panel. It was pretty amazing.
You’re now a project manager for Walt Disney Animation Studios. How did you get there? Where did you go after you graduated from high school and from CSSP?
I attended Ithaca College and graduated in 1999 with a degree in Cinema and Photography. While my degree is in film, I am a tech nerd at heart. My video game console is practically surgically attached to my hand.
What does your work as a project manager entail?
My work is sometimes is a bit like juggling bowling balls! Big, heavy, honking bowling balls. And sometimes it’s a bit like being the conductor of a sophisticated symphony orchestra. And sometimes it’s both together!
I have to take care of the technology we have here already, then figure out what we’re going to do next. It’s not just the media engineering—the audiovisual, the video conferencing, streamlining. And it’s not just the people, but our schedule, the budget, interfaces that have to happen between myself and the AV team, but also our construction contractors, plumbing and electrical.
We introduce these things into the floor, the wall, the ceiling to make a screening room, for example. I need to have construction workers, painters. We break walls, crawl up into ceilings. I have to know about demolition, fire safety, air conditioning and venting. And in our room we’ll have a ton of power going through it—an additional 110 or 120 volts of power. Will we blow something up? And this $100,000, 185-pound movie projector: will it explode when we have it in this space?
It’s really exciting and really demanding. But without my thank-you habit developed by Mrs. Stein it would be harder. For me, the chance to live and study through the Chappaqua Summer Scholarship Program was a real life-saver and life-changer.
Plan an Effective Project Meeting
Below are some of Frasqueri-Molina’s writings on project managment:
Can you do it?
The program is still looking for host families for two-week intervals during the 2012 program, which will run from Sunday, July 1, through Friday, July 13, and from Sunday, July 15, through Friday, July 27. (If you are away July 4, the board will host the student until you return.) Students stay with their Chappaqua hosts Sunday evenings through Fridays, returning to the city for the weekends. Participants are bused to school in the morning, and return to their hosts in the late afternoon. Families with little kids, teens, and empty-nesters all find hosting satisfying, and not a big commitment. Please consider hosting a student!
If you would like to learn more about hosting, and perhaps speak with a host parent, please contact:
For additional information visit us at www.chappaquasummerscholarship.org.
Related: Be part of a unique Chappaqua program: Host a student for 10 weekdays this summer, NCNOW.org, 5/11/12
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