Always a Way to Get to a Smile!

Always a Way to Get to a Smile!

The following post is from Ziad Moukheiber, CEO of Boston Harbor Angels.


A few months ago I started mentoring young students through BUILD, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to use entrepreneurship to ignite the potential of youth from under-resourced communities and propel them to high school, college and career success.  At first the task was daunting: getting a bunch of teenagers focused on a topic is a challenge, especially when most of them did not chose to be in this after school program. Week after week, the teacher, with the help of the mentors, made slow but steady progress. The excitement and dedication to the entrepreneurial projects grew.

During each session I tried to get to know the kids: I found that they were smart, very funny and mostly needed their scattered energy focused in the right direction. Week after week one of the kids caught my attention: he was very quiet and seemed disinterested, lonely. He did not participate much and left 20 minutes early every session. My first reaction was that he was disinterested and a difficult student.

This past week I sat next to him to see if I could get to know him and to find a way to motivate him. He remained quiet, did not speak much. His indifference irritated me but I stayed focused to see how I could connect with him. We were working on a PowerPoint presentation, I asked him a few questions and he barely responded. Something was not adding up.

I watched him for a while and finally figured it out!

He does not speak English, I asked him if he spoke any other languages and he said Creole and French. He had no idea that I am fluent in French. I started speaking to him in French and his face lit up with the biggest smile I have ever seen. He had just come from Haiti and was living with a relative and worked at a fast food restaurant after school for pocket money which was why he had to leave early. We did the rest of the mentoring session in French and the quiet kid was no longer quiet.

Learn more about BUILD and how you can get involved by visiting

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