New York is a city filled with incredible stories. On every block, in every neighborhood, remarkable individuals are going to extraordinary lengths to help their neighbors in need. For more than two decades, Robin Hood has held a special annual breakfast to honor the most inspiring among us.

These are their uplifting, yet heart-breaking, stories of resilience, courage, and compassion:


Debbie, Julia and Fidelia are testaments to the transformational power of mentorship. All three women — bound by their love of books and guided by iMentor’s program — were the first in their families to go to college. They each then turned around to open that door for another.

Thirteen years ago, three generations of mentors and mentees began with a simple meeting and a bag of books.

“I packed up some favorite titles from my office at Random House and went to meet the person I’d agreed to mentor. We were both readers — that’s why we were matched up — but I knew little else about her.”
— Debbie

It turns out, like Debbie, Julia grew up in a home mired in poverty and tainted by an alcoholic father. And like her, Julia was full of ambition, but short on opportunities. The idea of college had never occurred to Julia.

“College had never come up in my house. Why would it? My parents were busy providing — and, like Debbie’s family, surviving.”
— Julia

“It’s hard to imagine a future when you have no idea that a path even exists. That’s why Julia wasn’t even considering college, which was a crime really, given her mind and heart.”
— Debbie

With the help of iMentor’s curriculum, Debbie empowered Julia and helped her to first apply to college, then to graduate.

“I knew she needed assistance, the kind so many kids take for granted: navigating course catalogs, figuring out scholarships, applying for work-studies. That’s the beauty of iMentor… it provides the real help disadvantaged kids need to get to college, kids who wouldn’t get it anywhere else.”

Julia thrived. She earned her BA from Howard University. (She’s the only one of her seven siblings to go to college.) She went on to work for the Democratic National Committee, President Obama’s campaign, and now the ASPCA.

Grateful for all she’d received from Debbie and iMentor, Julia became a mentor.

“The best thing in my life — the reason I am on this planet — is to be Fidelia’s mentor.”

Fidelia’s family emigrated from Haiti to the United States in the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake. She nearly dropped out of high school to help support her family, but with Julia’s encouragement and assistance she decided to pursue college instead. She’s now in her second year at Borough of Manhattan Community College and recently became a U.S. citizen.

Eager to pay it forward, Fidelia is eagerly anticipating the day when she will become a mentor.

Last year, 92% of high school seniors in iMentor applied to college and 79% of them will be the first in their families to attend college.


Jessie fled from her abusive husband with her four children. They lived in a shelter. With the help of the Coalition for the Homeless, Jessie was able to leave the shelter system and live in a home of her own. Now, she works for the Coalition, helping homeless families get back on their feet and into homes.

Jessie, a proud mother of four, was trapped in a home with her dangerously abusive husband.

“Someone spoke to Annabella’s fifth grade class about domestic violence. Annabella started to cry and they pulled her aside. She told the teacher she was afraid her father was going to kill me.”
— Jessie

To escape the beatings and to free her kids from the perpetual violence, Jessie fled with them to the safety of a shelter on the Upper West Side.

“We were relieved to be free from my husband’s rage, but we missed our home. A shelter is not a home.”
— Jessie

From the shelter, Jessie moved to a railroad apartment in Ridgewood, Queens and landed in a job training program at Coalition for the Homeless. The Coalition helped her realize she had choices in life and a passion for helping people.

“There are many ways into homelessness. For one thing, there are simply not enough affordable homes. And many of us are just one emergency away from losing the home we have. For some it’s doctors bills. For others it’s losing a job. For me — and for many of the women I encounter — it’s getting away from an abusive husband.”

Turning an internship at the Coalition into a full-time job, Jessie is now on the front lines of the city’s affordable housing crisis. She helps working parents and individuals, who were once like her, get out of shelters and into homes.

The Coalition for the Homeless addresses the immediate needs of 3,500 low-income people each day and helps them overcome obstacles to employment and housing stability.

New York City is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis. Between 2000 and 2012 the city’s median rents increased by an astronomical 75 percent, while median household income declined by 5 percent.


Demetrius, 21, has lived in nearly 30 different foster homes. Lawyers For Children helped him overcome a dark period in his life, find a stable family, get into college, and get on track to achieve his dream of becoming an attorney. What is it like to be raised by the foster care system? Demetrius describes it as a rollercoaster. By the time he was in kindergarten he had lived in three foster homes.

“The first years of my life are still a blur. My brothers and I moved from home to home to home. Some of the homes were terrible. I remember once being tied up in a basement and forced to walk across boiling hot rice.”

Demetrius thought he had found his “forever mom” when he was adopted at 5. But the home was chaotic and abusive. Seven years later she gave Demetrius back to the system.

“In the foster care world it’s called a broken adoption. In my world, it’s called a broken heart.”

Unimaginably, Demetrius’ childhood got harder. He moved constantly — living in 25 foster homes and attending four high schools — and lost trust in authority.

Demetrius seemed destined to become another sad statistic until Lawyers For Children entered his life. They were relentless in reaching out to him and offering their help.

“I wasn’t used to someone reaching out to me so much, to caring so much.”

Demetrius’ attorney at Lawyers For Children, Laura, helped him find a safe, stable home and transfer to a good high school. He graduated with a Regent’s Diploma and a 3.6 GPA. He’s earning his Associate’s Degree at St. John’s University.

“I hope to finish my Bachelor’s degree at N.Y.U. and then go to law school. I want to become an attorney, so that I can advocate for and empower other children, just like Lawyers For Children did for me.”

He will soon be legally adopted by the Napolitanos.

“I’m 21 years old and I finally found my forever family.”

Kids in foster care face high rates of homelessness, weak academic performance, and other challenges. Lawyers For Children changes these odds. They provide each young person with an attorney, a social worker, and a youth advocate who secure services for these young adults, including housing, access to benefits, and counseling.

Each year, for more than two decades, Robin Hood has held a breakfast to honor its grantees and the amazing, resilient people those organizations serve. This November, Robin Hood recognized three of the 200+ non-profits it funds — iMentor, Coalition for the Homeless, and Lawyers For Children — with $50,000 grants to help fuel the heroic work they do to improve the lives of low-income New Yorkers.

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