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Photo courtesy of Carmin Caterina
Photo courtesy of Carmin Caterina
Nancy Adzemovic (left) and Laura Camelo (right) from Ridgewood Savings Bank present a check to Carmin Caterina, founder of Lessons For My Daughters.

A former educator and Ridgewood native who started her own organization to help inspire and empower young girls is getting help from a community partner to continue her mission.

Carmin Caterina, who founded Lessons For My Daughters, was granted a check for $2,800 from the Ridgewood Savings Bank to put toward an eight-week program she will be running at Grover Cleveland High School.

As a former speech pathologist and itinerant teacher, Caterina told QNS that she feels grateful and validated now that she is getting the chance to change the education system for girls in ways that she used to daydream about.

“When someone sees the value in your work, there’s no greater accomplishment,” Caterina said. “It’s such an honor to be the inspiration for them that I wish I had at that age.”

Lessons For My Daughters is a motivational workshop designed for teenage girls to increase self-esteem, foster an empowered attitude, inspire critical thinking, strengthen the ability to maintain healthy relationships and better regulate emotions.

The eight-week program at Grover Cleveland will take place once a week and is integrated into the regular school day. That gives the students the opportunity to take time out of their academic work to reflect on their level of happiness, said Caterina, who is a graduate of Grover Cleveland.

Her inspiration for starting the program was born out of being raised in an abusive home. Since her father was ill and her mother was constantly working, Caterina said, the environment was toxic and she doesn’t know if she would have learned how to love without her grandmother.

“She treated me like I was the most important thing in the world,” Caterina said. “She just cared about me and I realized that her being that person for me changed my life.”

That realization motivated her to give that same spirit back to the girls in her life, but as a teacher she felt limited. Caterina said that she was always drawn to the inner city schools that others would be afraid to teach in because she felt like she could relate to the struggling children. Over time, she thought that the humanity of teaching was missing, and believed that more important than education was being a positive role model.

Nancy Adzemovic, assistant vice president of the Forest Hills branch of Ridgewood Savings Bank, is also a graduate of Grover Cleveland and helped coordinate the partnership. She said that Caterina is a customer of the bank and reached out to them by writing a letter, and it was an easy decision to make from there.

“We thought it would be awesome to help take her organization there and make a difference in a time when young girls need to be empowered to do great things,” Adzemovic said.

During the eight-week program, there will be a different lesson to cover each week with hands-on activities for a group of 55 teenage girls. Caterina said she will use the money from Ridgewood Savings Bank to cover the cost of workbooks and assignments for the girls, as well as T-shirts and other small gifts during the program to uplift and inspire them. Caterina also invited Adzemovic to take part in a lesson on finances during the program.

Her ultimate goal, Caterina said, is to have her program spread throughout the city’s public schools and eventually become nationwide.

Her mindset can best be summed up by a line from the thank-you letter she wrote to Leonard Stekol, president of Ridgewood Savings Bank: “I have the unique opportunity to return to my high school and community to give back what I was so lacking in my life, and to me that is the ultimate gift.”

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