Connection. It’s the one-word mission behind Future 5, an organization New Canaanite Clif McFeely started for connecting disconnected high school students to bright futures.
McFeely began Future 5 in 2009 after volunteering with Stamford’s Big Brother program. Living in New Canaan and working in advertising in Stamford, he said he felt closed off from many of the life and financial struggles many kids face — until he joined Big Brother. Around the same time, he decided the time had come to close his ad agency. He began thinking of his second career and that’s when Future 5 came about.
“The thought behind Future 5 is how we could connect each high school student to at least five different people in their lives to help them move forward,” McFeely told the Advertiser. “The beauty of living in New Canaan is the number of people willing to put their time and smarts into helping us here.”
He mentioned that New Canaanites comprise 28 of Future 5’s 52 active coaches and board members. He also said many New Canaan organizations, including the New Canaan Community Foundation, have donated to Future 5.
“New Canaan has really been the engine behind this in so many ways,” he said.
How it works
Future 5 consists of coaches and weekly workshops that help high school students stay on track and plan for the next steps in their lives. During the first six weeks of the program, new members are asked to put their own lives into perspective, and coaches show them how to avoid the “gremlins” — friends, family, lack of motivation, drugs and alcohol, etc. — that hold them back.
“We get them thinking and walking away with a plan for themselves,” McFeely said. “The idea is to help them get through high school and connect to a four-year college, community college or trade.”
Students are matched with coaches who tutor them in subjects they may struggle with — particularly math — as well as those who help them with the college application and financial aid process. For students who seek a job out of high school, coaches teach them the soft skills that employers are looking for, such as work ethic and interview skills.
Future 5 students join the organization mainly by word of mouth and friends recruiting friends, McFeely said. Though the organization does work with Stamford schools in some respect, minimal recruiting is done within the school system.
McFeely said students’ success is measured on whether they end up in college or employed after graduation. Over the five years Future 5 has been around, he said the success rate is 92%.
One of his most memorable success stories comes from a young woman who had good grades in high school and a promising future when she joined Future 5, but she had no money for college. An aspiring nurse, the student applied to schools and became discouraged when she saw what college would cost. She began working closely with one of the organization’s coaches and ended up attending a dinner at New Rochelle College. During the dinner, the Future 5 coach introduced the student to the president of the school.
The following day, the president called Future 5 and offered the student a full scholarship into the school’s nursing program. She is in her third year at New Rochelle and is doing well, McFeely said.
Another Future 5 success story comes from a young man who struggled through high school and decided to put his life into perspective his senior year. He ended up enrolling in Norwalk Community College and chose to use community college as a stepping stone to earning a four-year degree. Now, McFeely said, that student is leaving community college with a 3.5 grade point average and is on his way to attending a four-year university.
“We’re as proud of a student going to NCC with the attitude to succeed as we are with a student getting a full ride to a four-year college,” McFeely said. “One thing we’ve learned with this is that we’ve created a positive program for young people to be involved with – where coaches and students are part of one community. It’s fun to be here. It’s positive and optimistic.”
For now, Future 5 focuses only on Stamford students, but McFeely believes it could eventually expand to help students in other cities across the state.
“The idea is to be the best we can be in Stamford,” he said. “Our first priority is to make it great here. We learn from the kids here how to make it better.”
Future 5 membership is free for students, and the organization relies on grants and donations from corporations and within the community. To learn more or to make a donation, visit futurefive.org.