July 23, 2016

Academia / Education

Trendsetters - May 2007

Mike Vogel | 5/1/2007

The Emmons sisters: (from left) Mary, Virginia, Melanie. Photo: Daniel Portnoy

Sister Solution

A West African village suffers from low literacy and poor healthcare. Foster care youth in Miami turn 18 and leave the system, unaware they qualify for free college or trade school tuition and $892 in monthly support while studying.

What the two problems have in common is the five Emmons sisters providing solutions: Virginia Emmons, a former Peace Corps volunteer; two other sisters in Miami, University of Miami law grad and pro bono award winner Melanie Emmons Damian, and caterer and event planner Mary Emmons Dhanji; and two sisters outside Florida, U.S. Military Academy graduate Melissa Emmons McCarthy, who works for a Washington defense contractor, and Wisconsin educator Lucy Emmons Spoerk.

A Milwaukee native and the youngest of eight, Virginia became convinced education was the answer to the troubles in the Niger village to which the Peace Corps assigned her. So sister Lucy in Wisconsin raised the money to open a school in 2000. Today, $30,000 raised annually operates a 70-student elementary school, a health clinic that treats 2,000 people and a boardinghouse in a larger community so the village's children can attend middle school.

Meanwhile in Miami, Melanie, through her pro bono work, grew concerned about foster kids aging out of the system without the skills to succeed. After Virginia arrived in 2004, they founded Educate Tomorrow with their sisters. "It's a very dynamic family," Virginia, 31, says.

Their organization has placed mentors with 200 teens who learn to open a bank account, shop for dorm supplies and, most importantly, find a trade school or college opportunity and tap the free tuition and living stipend. The organization is looking to expand in other Florida counties. "We're not done yet," Virginia says.

Tags: Trendsetters, North Central, Education

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