A Partnership Full of Purpose: The Trey Whitfield Mentors Program at Brewster

A Partnership Full of Purpose: The Trey Whitfield Mentors Program at Brewster
Nancy Hughes

A bond between Trey Whitfield School and Brewster Academy has always existed, but now that bond is growing stronger. After the tragic passing of Trey Whitfield just days before his graduation from Brewster in 1989, Janie and AB Whitfield committed themselves—in their own words— “to creating triumph out of tragedy.” They did so by offering the children of East New York (nursery-eighth grade) the highest quality education possible in the respectful and loving environment of the Trey Whitfield School (TWS). This weekend Brewster will host the Trey Whitfield Invitational, a tournament that celebrates Trey’s love of basketball and of Brewster and showcases the Academy’s powerful Prep Team. This weekend is also, importantly, a time for the mentors and mentees of the Trey Whitfield Mentors Program to connect on campus.

Initiated in the ’16-’17 academic year, the Trey Whitfield Mentors Program at Brewster Academy is the brainchild of Melissa Lawlor, Director of Equity and Inclusion Programs. Lawlor’s goal in starting the program was multifold. First, convinced that the shared history of the two schools needed to be recognized and celebrated more deeply, Lawlor conceived of the program as a way to strengthen the schools’ ties. Second, she saw in the program a chance for individual students (not just institutions) to build bridges of understanding and to develop leadership skills. Third, Lawlor envisioned the program as a means of creating allies and resources for students from TWS who decide to enroll at Brewster – ultimately, strengthening those kids’ Brewster experiences—a benefit to our entire community as over 50 TWS alumni have attended Brewster in the past 25 years.

In classic Brewster fashion, this program was launched during the 2017 Project-Based Learning period (now Interim Studies) when five Brewster students, including TWS graduate Ciera Burden ‘17, traveled down to Brooklyn with Lawlor for a multi-day visit at TWS. Today the program involves 24 students, 12 from Brewster and 12 from TWS. Brewster students apply to serve as mentors and are selected based upon their commitment, affability, and cultural competency. At Trey Whitfield School, middle school principal, Deborah Johnson, works with AB Whitfield to select particularly promising 7th and 8th grade mentees, all of whom are eager to expand their horizons and benefit from a relationship with a high school mentor.

Brewster student Gus '21 at the Trey Whitfield school in Brooklyn

Over the course of a year, mentors and mentees communicate over Facetime and email, but the magic of the program happens during the four in-person visits. The first one is always a trip to see the mentees on their own turf. Brewster students visit their mentees’ neighborhoods and the Trey Whitfield School itself to gain as clear a sense of their mentees’ environments as possible. In November Lawlor arranged for the second in-person visit to take place over a weekend at Camp Jewell in Connecticut, a place all program participants could experience for the first time together. And this coming weekend the 24 students will connect again as the Whitfields bring the mentees and other TWS students up for the basketball tournament and a chance to explore Brewster’s campus and dorms. Finally in the spring, program participants will meet for a fourth time, either back at Brewster or in Boston to explore some museums and historical sites.

Trey Whtifield students and Brewster mentors at Camp Jewel in Connecticut

The Trey Whitfield Mentors Program at Brewster Academy has grown swiftly to become one of our most successful and cherished student leadership programs.  And Lawlor is particularly proud of the diverse backgrounds and interests of our mentors: Trey Whitfield alums, Wolfeboro natives, aspiring actresses, college-bound basketball players, artists, and scholars. As a testament to their gratitude and enthusiasm for the program, the Trey Whitfield Foundation honored Lawlor this summer with their annual Adult Honoree Award. For adults and students alike, this partnership with Trey Whitfield School embodies the very best of Brewster; it’s collaborative, project-based, community-building, and full of heart and inspiration. Brewster’s mission in action—living lives of purpose.

Read an article written about Trey Whitfield by TJ Palmer in 2014: The Hand I Most Remember

See more pictures of the Trey Whitfield Mentors Program

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