While other students talked about their summer term expectations at “Camp Dartmouth,” Cecily Carson ’95 found it difficult to relate.
As she looked around the campus, Carson pictured 12 year-old Juan Ferran, a Hispanic youth from New York City’s Spanish Harlem and a prospective member of the Class of 1999, immersed in the College’s surroundings.
Carson met Ferranwhile volunteering at Exodus House, an after-school program for predominantly Hispanic children. She said the center is a safe haven for children “to keep them off the streets” and to provide support when their families cannot.
Carson first became involved with Exodus House after taking a semester off from the College for medical reasons.
Once she had recuperated, she was looking for something to fullfill her time. Exodus House not only filled the void of time but rewarded Carson with a new outlook on life.
Originally founded as a drug-rehabilitation center to aid residents of Spanish Harlem, Exodus House expanded to include an after-school program..
Many of the children Carson worked with came from disadvantanged families.
She described 14 year-old Myra, who was too old to be in the program, but spent as much time there as some of the counselors.
“Myra’s mother is addicted to drugs,” Carson said. “Her father was arrested and will be out of prison in August. She would bring hundred dollar bills to the center and show everybody — she thought it was neat.”
Perhaps Carson’s greatest accomplishment at the center involved Ericka Martin, an 11 year-old Collegiate student, who was destined to repeat the fifth grade. Because of the many hours which Carson spent tutoring her in math, English, and history, Martin will enter the sixth grade with the rest of her class this fall.
Outside of tutoring, Carson said she spent much of the time just “hanging out” with the children. The acivities which Carson helped organize included everything from trips to museums to games of capture the flag.
Hans Hageman, one of the executive directors of Exodus House, said that Carson had a powerful impact on the children who she came into contact with every day.
“Cecily provided a positive role model for the kids — especially for the girls. She was responsible for turning one girl entirely around! [Ericka Martin’s] grades went up, and her attitude improved. Cecily was a tutor, a mento and a good friend.”
Carson proved that her commitment to the children extended beyond the 103rd Street center when she invited all 20 members of the class on an excursion to her family’s summer home in upstate New York. Despite the cold and rain, the children spent the entire day immersed in the backyard pool.
That day, like many others, Juan Ferran held Carson’s attention by constantly grabbing her Dartmouth cap from her head. Carson remembers that while Ferran usually “knocked” Dartmouth, he proclaimed: “This is my school. I’m gonna be a Dartmouth student.”
Ferran’s aspirations seem somehow plausible, as he was surrounded by role models such as Carson and the two executive directors of the Exodus House, Hans, and his brother, Ivan Hageman.
“Cecily provided another view of what’s out there — she served as a window to the outside world,” Hageman said.
Both Hans and his brother grew up in Spanish Harlem and attended the Collegiate School. They went on to earn undergraduate and graduate degrees from Harvard, Princeton and Columbia Universities.
The Hagemans, with many career options open to them, decided to return to their old neighborhood, and founded Exodus House six years ago. While they still spend some time teaching and practicing law, the two now devote most of their energy to the center.
Carson said the founders’ inspiring stories gave hope to the students. In turn, the children fueled Carson’s desire to help them. “I wanted to quit college and stay there forever,” she said.
Carson said the warmth of the children and the staff at Exodus House gave her the support she desired at a difficult transitional time of her life. Of the entire experience, she said, “It gave me more than I was giving to it.”