Sometimes, we all need to be reminded of the true impact that the last year has had on people.

On Thursday, the Mavericks hosted 105 teenagers who are part of the Young Women’s Preparatory Network and are heading to college in a couple months. Some are the first in their family to pursue a degree.

Almost all of them had more to overcome during the pandemic than just making sure they stayed healthy, although that certainly was crucial.

“It was a year where we didn’t just focus on school, but also focused on our family,” said Daniela De La Cruz. “Some of us had to work. Some of us had to take care of our siblings. On top of schoolwork, we tried to continue to do advocacy work and advance our communities, too.

“It’s been a hell of a year. I don’t know if I can say that. But it’s been a hell of a year.”

She could not have been more accurate.

De La Cruz is headed to the University of Southern California. She and the other 104 young women who have been part of YWPN got a chance on Thursday to dance and celebrate with the Mavericks’ ManiACCS and CEO Cynt Marshall, who addressed the group personally.

Goodie baskets were given to each student. All the gift packages included either a Surface Pro Laptop or Beats Headphones. Also in the goodie basket were $250 in gift cards, a $200 cash gift, courtesy of Mavericks’ jersey patch sponsor Chime, $100 of personalized gear from the college that each student is attending, plus a book picked out by Marshall.

The value of each basket was at least $1,275 for a total donation of nearly $134,000 for these college-bound seniors.

“It’s heartwarming stuff,” said Marshall. “We all want to help the community, but when you see the help actually coming alive like this, it’s unbelievable. And that’s what we are celebrating with these girls, all 105 of them.

“After such an unprecedented year, we are excited to honor and celebrate these fabulous graduates. The future looks promising with these bright minds, and we want to make sure they are set up for success.”

The girls came from Dallas (50), Grand Prairie (15) and Fort Worth (40). Of the 50 girls from Dallas, they are going to 32 different colleges, including one in Europe.

The 15 Grand Prairie seniors include 12 who are the first in their family to go to college.

The 40 girls from Fort Worth combined to receive more than $9-million in academic and merit scholarships.

With the COVID-19 issues, a higher percentage of girls are going to college locally. But they still will be sprinkled throughout the nation from coast to coast.

Founded in 2002, the YWPN is a nonprofit agency that partners with public school districts across Texas to operate the largest network of all-girls, public, college preparatory schools in the nation. The schools are located in struggling urban neighborhoods and have proven to be very successful.

The girls who were celebrated at Mavericks’ headquarters on a warm, sunny morning in the shadows of downtown Dallas and the American Airlines Center were proof.

“It means everything to all of these girls,” said Patty Leyendecker, chief development officer of YWPN. “They’ve had so many disappointments through COVID and a lot of these girls have had to assume other responsibilities for their families, whether it be working to help the family to survive, monitoring their siblings’ schooling at home – just everything.

“To have the attention on them – it’s the Mavericks caring so much about what the community has had to go through – it’s exceptional. These young women are going to be our future leaders and I’m so glad they have this opportunity.”

Ann Marano is a college-bound adviser of the leadership school and said that the YWPN girls have a unique bond.

“Our schools are very small, tight-knit communities,” Marano said. “I don’t have my own kids. These are my kids. We know them for seven years and take them from sixth grade all the way to and through college. It’s a magnificent way to celebrate everything they’ve accomplished. It’s such a vote of confidence from the community for the Mavs to show up in such a big way.”

The Mavericks have sent YWPN students off to college with much-needed gear for three years. Last year, because of the coronavirus, a drive-through event took place. Two years ago, it was a festive affair at Fort Worth.

On Thursday, the girls partied like they hadn’t gotten to for months – mostly because they hadn’t.

“More than anything, it’s very exciting and we’re very grateful because it’s been a rough year,” De La Cruz said. “It’s been a year full of so many surprises and this is a good type of surprise and it kind of makes us realize why we kept going and that everything was worth it and that we’re appreciated regardless of everything we endured this year. Seeing things like this, it’s all worth it, knowing there are people out there trying to help us.”

Marshall left the group with words of wisdom about how they are on their way to overcoming the adversity that they have endured.

“Handle your business,” she said. “That’s personal for me because when I started at Berkeley, I didn’t have a lot. I was raised in a public housing project, but that’s OK. My mother taught me it’s not where you live, it’s how you live and with God, all things are possible. And I know that to be true.

“I didn’t have anything when I set foot on Berkeley’s campus (at the University of California). Well, I won’t say I didn’t have anything, because I had a big dream. I had a huge dream.”

And with help from the Mavericks on Thursday, a lot of young women’s dreams are alive and well as they prepare for the next stage of their lives.

“Over 80 percent of these girls are economically disadvantaged,” Leyendecker said. “And so this is a big deal for them. They take their education very seriously because this is their way out of poverty.

“And that’s what our program does in supporting the public schools. We try to give the girls opportunities that they wouldn’t have otherwise, so they don’t fall through the cracks. They’re serious about what they’re doing.”

Twitter: @ESefko


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