Abandoned by his family and left homeless and alone on the mean streets of Brooklyn, young Jamaican immigrant Orayne Williams was an unlikely candidate to graduate from high school.
But Williams beat the odds, becoming valedictorian of his class and attending college on a full scholarship after the Daily News shared his inspiring story in 2010.
Six years later, Williams has earned his college diploma and he’s working to fight the growing crisis in the city’s public schools where 82,500 kids are now homeless, up nearly 23% from 67,200 homeless kids in 2011.
The former homeless teen, now 24, is employed as a caseworker at a city shelter and he’s putting together a new scholarship to help homeless students in public schools achieve their dreams.
Homeless teen launches charity
Much as he has achieved his dreams, against all odds.
“I know what it feels like to be homeless and I know what it feels like to receive help from case managers and social workers,” said Williams, who’s now living alone in an apartment in the South Bronx. “I’ve learned how to navigate the system and I want to help other homeless people move forward.”
Williams works a full-time job at former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s 146-bed Women in Need shelter in East Harlem, where he helps families transition to homes of their own.
Quinn, the group’s president and CEO, met Williams when she was still on the City Council. At the time, he was still a senior at Bedford Academy in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
Williams graduated from John Jay College in June 2015 with a 3.7 grade point average and a bachelor’s degree in English. When he contacted Quinn about a job at a shelter in February, she jumped at the chance to hire him.
“He exudes this sense of strength and optimism when he’s really never had all that much to be optimistic about,” Quinn said. “He hasn’t just survived homelessness but he’s thrived, and he’s framed his life around giving back to others. ”
Orayne Williams created a nonprofit of his own called the Progressive People’s Movement in 2010, which is now raising money for a scholarship for homeless youth from city schools.
Orayne Williams created a nonprofit of his own called the Progressive People’s Movement in 2010, which is now raising money for a scholarship for homeless youth from city schools. (ADAMS IV, JAMES MONROE (FREELANC)
About 12,000 residents of city shelters — about 20% of the total shelter population — are children 5 years old or under, Quinn said, underscoring the need for supports for homeless youths and students.
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To help address that need, Williams created a nonprofit of his own called the Progressive People’s Movement in 2010, which is now raising money for a scholarship for homeless youth from the city schools to be awarded in 2016.
Progressive People’s Movement aims to raise money to pay for school supplies for a yet-to-be-chosen homeless student, and Williams said the group will also help coach its scholars to succeed in school and apply to college.
“I couldn’t have survived without help and now I’m in a position to help,” Williams said. “I want young people to know they don’t have to do it alone.”
Progressive People’s Movement is holding a happy hour fund-raiser with a $10 cover charge at Lucky Jack’s Bar & Lounge in Manhattan starting at 7 p.m. on July 22.
Left homeless and alone, student earns college scholarship