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From Struggling Youth to Mentor and Role Model

Once homeless and uninterested in studies, Moises Urena turned his life around with a commitment to education and helping people. (Photo by Patrick Dodson) 

ALBANY, N. Y. (Oct. 16, 2018) — Moises Urena, a former peer leader in his South Bronx high school who aspires to one day work in higher education, has a young fan proudly watching his progress through college.

“I have a little sister who is 9 named Abbygail,” said. Urena, a 20-year-old junior in the School of Education. “She is into the arts and says she wants to be like me and come here to UAlbany.”

Going to college wasn’t an obvious choice for Urena, who was homeless for a time during high school and a disengaged student until his junior year. That’s when he attended a program through PeerForward, a nonprofit that promotes high school success through peer mentoring.

His story was told in a recent New York Times opinion piece.

“My first reaction when I was told that I might get interviewed to be in The New York Times – I was at a loss for words,” Urena said. “I did not know people were actually paying attention to the work that I have been putting in and it made me feel better ... that I am making a difference.”

He continues his role as a mentor at UAlbany, now in a more informal way. After spending two summers as an orientation leader with Student Affairs, Urena finds that other students come to him for information and guidance – or just to vent. “I myself have a few mentors on campus and always confide in them when I need help,” he said.

Urena is planning for a career in higher education and a way to continue helping disadvantaged kids succeed in life.

“In five or 10 years I see myself as an administrator at a university while also running a mentoring and tutoring nonprofit to help students in low-income communities,” Urena said. “I want to help make a difference in their life and hopefully sending them off to college. I want to do this because i know how it feels like to be homeless and have someone actually care for you and watch out for you. I want to be that for someone else.”

In addition to Abbygail, Urena has a sister attending community college and an older brother who’s a UAlbany alum.

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