Leah's progress

Hapsatou "Leah" Diallo is a magnet for challenging opportunities.

I checked in with Leah last week, more than a year after I first met her while reporting about Summer Search, a group that pays for city teens to take educational trips and helps them prep for college.

Leah is a native of Burkina Faso, a French-speaking country in Africa. She had recently arrived in Boston and enrolled as a high school sophomore. Leah was living with a cousin, and terribly missed her mother, who is in France. As she struggled to learn English, she still held memories of an attack by soldiers at her school in Africa.

So it meant the world to her to be nominated for a Summer Search scholarship, and to have the staff really listen to her story.

She didn't know quite what to expect when Summer Search matched her with a camping trip in Maine. She waterskiied and mountain-biked for the first time. And when she spent three days making a video, she came one step closer to her goal of becoming a journalist.

In Maine, she wrote later, "I found who I really was. I could be independent." She found a weekend job so she could pay rent to her cousin. And she took her new confidence and marched into an immigration office in search of a lawyer to help her get a green card.

By offering mentoring in addition to scholarships, groups like Summer Search nurture this kind of life-transforming growth, one kid at a time.

This month, Leah is headed to Stanford's Junior Statesmen School. She was surprised to make it into the competitive program, but she's already planning her project, a "Marshall Plan" for Africa.

Of her latest challenge she says, "I will do anything to prove that I can do it."

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