By Kate Stone Lombardi
She was 15 years old when she left home in the South Bronx and boarded a train for Chappaqua.
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina was heading to her first summer as a Chappaqua Summer Scholarship Program (CSSP) student. She was excited, nervous and remembers being struck by the density of trees. At the time, she’d never been north of White Plains.
Now fast forward to this summer, 22 years later. Taralyn (who prefers her nickname “TL”) is chatting from her cell phone in Los Angeles. An earlier conversation had been postponed–she was busy bidding on one of the biggest contracts of her career. By the time we connected, TL, an independent contractor, had won the job and would be working on a digital project for Disney.
But before describing her work as a woman of color in the male-dominated technology field, her career path, or even her transformation from a girl who grew up in the projects in the Bronx to a businesswoman in LA, TL wanted to talk about CSSP.
The program, she said, helped lay the groundwork for her success. It wasn’t just the academic skills she gained. The personal connections were also key. Her relationship with her CSSP host mother, Nancy Stein, who TL describes as “my second mother” has given her strength and support throughout her years in the program.
This year, TL decided it was time to pay it forward. Every graduating senior from CSSP will receive a $100 gift card to Amazon from TL, to be used for books, supplies, or anything else a student would want.
“It’s time to give back,” she said. “I thought, ‘Taralyn, you did not get here by yourself. Now that you’re in a position where you’re not struggling, you need to look at how you got there.’”
Other CSSP alumni have volunteered, served on the Board, and supported the organization, but TL’s gift was a particular delight.
“I was overwhelmed by her generosity, thoughtfulness and commitment and caring to our program and students,” commented Diane Albert, Chair of CSSP.
The Chappaqua Summer Scholarship Program is primarily an academic program for scholastically promising students in the Bronx. The focus is heavily on college readiness. Students attend classes at Horace Greeley High in the morning, and participate in recreational and cultural activities in the evening.
Local families host the teenagers. For both TL and Nancy Stein, the connection was immediate. “She was understanding, compassionate and beyond her years,” Ms. Stein said. “She intrigued me right from the beginning.”
TL had her struggles. Her mother, with whom she was deeply close, became terminally ill, and passed away in 1994. But even as her health declined, TL’s mother insisted that her daughter stay in CSSP. “She was big on education,” TL explained.
TL’s path hasn’t always been straightforward. After graduating from Ithaca College, she sampled several careers. TL taught martial arts. She went to the Los Angeles Police Department police academy, but decided against becoming an officer. She worked at a temp agency. After a stint in post-production at Playboy TV, she landed at Disney. Over six years, she worked her way from media scheduler to project manager, overseeing eight teams in the animation studios. Now, as an independent contractor, Disney is her client.
TL’s gift to each CSSP graduate comes with a hand painted card featuring a violet, her mother’s favorite flower. She hopes this is just the beginning of her philanthropy.
“The program was a lifesaver and a safety net,” TL said. “My next step is to go bigger, because for me it’s not a big enough statement of what CSSP has meant to me.”
Kate Stone Lombardi, a journalist and author, was a CSSP host mom for many happy summers.