This post is also available in: Spanish
By Annie Diaz
“For the last ten years, over 40% of Reading youth have not graduated high school. Where are they now? Likely unemployed, uninsured, unhealthy, or incarcerated. These young adults are lost to the system, lack adequate work skills, and don’t know where to go to get their lives back on track. The I-LEAD Charter School is one second-chance option for some of these forgotten ones to re-engage in education and direct themselves toward a more positive future.”
The Institute for Leadership Education, Advancement, and Development, Inc. (or I-LEAD) is a Pennsylvania nonprofit that has served as a force for community leadership development since 1995. From 1995 through 2005, I-LEAD served as the lead training partner for Urban Genesis, Inc., focusing primarily on the development of community leaders in Philadelphia. From 2001 tothrough 2005, I-LEAD served as the lead training partner for the Pennsylvania Weed and Seed program. In this capacity, through a multi-year grant exceeding $2 million, I-LEAD delivered leadership and organizational development training, as well as related technical assistance services, to faith-based and community organizations in sixteen Pennsylvania cities. The program included not only thousands of hours of leadership and organizational development training delivered on-site to cohorts of grassroots faith-based and community leaders, but also ongoing technical assistance, including regional conferences and the provision of mini-grants to support the leadership development and organizational capacity-building objectives of the program.
We interviewed Angel Figueroa, Chief Executive Officer and Founder of the Reading I-LEAD Charter School. The brain child is David Castro, who started the idea of giving our community and leaders help and inspiration. It was time to rebuild the community, therefore Governor Tom Ridge asked Castro to start a training program on providing tools and resources to help the community. With the rise of crime in the community, this came at the right time. Angel is the walking billboard of how this has affected people positively. This program was named “Pennsylvania WEED and SEED Program.” Feeling passionate about his community and knowing the importance to help, he implemented all his energy into this program, which grew thousands of adults in a five-year period.
We asked Figueroa to describe his passion and why the I-LEAD Charter School? He says he was inspired when in 2002, he was the first Latino man elected as city council in Reading, PA. He decided to run for mayor and it inspire many other adults. He often spoke to young adults and remembers asking a simple question, “What are your plans beyond high school?” They would look at him with confusion, because they would say, “No one ever asked me that question before!” “I was shocked!”, said Figueroa. Here we are in America with so many Latinos; many are not graduating and others that are, don’t have a clue of what they are going to do. My goal is to help young adults understand that high school is not a choice it should be a must. Although, high school is an expectation, the true celebration is to have more Latinos graduating from college. Unfortunately, many are going into college, but do not graduate.
Figueroa says, “In 2005, I helped develop the first college program. After that accomplishment, I asked myself, now what else can I do? In 2009, I put together a team to help open the first charter school in Reading, PA. There was a concern, because a large number of students were dropping out of high school. We felt the need to provide a solution–, that’s how we started ILEAD Charter school. The main mission is to focus on at risk, high school drop outs. Many factors come in to play for why these young adults behaved in this manner, such as bullying, “high school is too big”, among other reasons. We were listening to parents complain and asking, “what other options are there for our students?”. We wanted to provide options for parents and students to find an alternative place of education and create a safe-haven for them and that is how the I-LEAD Charter School came to exist.
After these great accomplishments, we wanted to learn more about Angel Figueroa. He is currently the Chief Operations Officer at the School, and serves in a leadership role in the School’s administration. Angel is the embodiment of transformational leadership and a masterful speaker. He works tirelessly to improve himself and his community, and yet he still finds time to be a devoted husband to his wife, Isamac Torres-Figueroa, to be a dedicated father to his daughters, and to be committed to the local community. Figueroa reminisces, “I was born and raised in Jersey City, New Jersey. I was able to beat the odds of getting involved with gangs, and getting shot, to becoming a humble successful individual. After getting involved in drugs and gangs,. Angel started in Lancaster PA, in 1995 as a student in their I-LEAD program, then an official employee in 2002 statewide, but then open an I-LEAD office in Reading, PA. I joined a s a trainer than became VP of resource development. The mission was to help other communities including Allentown, Reading, Lancaster develop the proper training for adults, etc.”
The program started in 2005, this two-year leadership program then received middle state accreditation. Federal credit that enables to provide college credits to those students. These are adult students that decide to return to school. We started 20 and now have over 600 students in South East, PA. I give thanks to my wife who gave me strength to move forward.
What would you like others to learn about ILEAD, other than the mission and the vision that it represents? Mr. Figueroa responded, “Today I-LEAD has weather many storms. We are like the David and Goliath story, thankfully we are David. Throughout the years doing this, I want everyone to know how adults can impact young adult. There’s a misconception, that once you hit a certain point in your teenage life, that there’s no turning back. But that’s not true! Everyone deserves a second chance and I want everyone to know that besides being the highest academic growth in education, we want to help them and welcome and embrace our students. We want to focus on their state of mind and emotions and then focus on their educational wellness, because we offer an alternative education, with high expectations.
Figueroa concluded, “My dear friend and mentor, David Castro, once told me that what we are doing with I-LEAD is not about making money but about changing lives. This was one of our first conversations when I started with I-LEAD. At the time it confused me because I thought that the only way to promote and grow this vision was by raising dollars. Fast forward fifteen years; I now understand that our impact and capabilities are worth more than money. It is about passing on the lessons that I have learned, paying it forward to others with no reciprocal expectations.”
CEO and Founder of I-LEAD Charter School, Reading, PA
Angel Figueroa is a transformational leader and powerful communicator.
He has extensive years of conducting leadership development training throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. His passion for training adults and youth has led him to become the President of the Puerto Rican Latin Association of Berks County. He is also the founder of the Berks County Latino Chamber of Commerce and was the co-author of the Berks County Latino Leadership Institute.
He ran for office and his unique enthusiasm led him to become the first Hispanic to be elected city councilman in the City of Reading. As one of the youngest ever to serve, he began his term in office at the age of 27. All the while he served as Vice President of Resource Development for I-LEAD, Inc. With his commitment to education unyielding, he committed himself to continuing his academic career. He finished his bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Albright College and completed his Master’s in Business Administration from Kutztown University in 2010.
He is currently the Chief Operations Officer at the School, and serves in a leadership role in the School’s administration. Angel is the embodiment of transformational leadership and a masterful speaker. He works tirelessly to improve himself and his community, yet still finds time to be a devoted husband to his wife, Isamac Torres-Figueroa, dedicated father to his daughters, and committed to his family and community.
David M Castro
President and Founder of I-LEAD Charter School
David M. Castro is a graduate of Haverford College (1983) and the University of Pennsylvania Law School (1986). In 1993, following a successful career both in private practice and as a Philadelphia prosecutor, he was awarded a Fellowship in the Kellogg Foundation National Leadership Program. He devoted his Fellowship to the study of community leadership and its relation to improving quality of life. Based upon this work, in 1995 Mr. Castro founded I-LEAD, Inc., a school for community leadership development that has served several thousand emerging leaders across Pennsylvania through its affiliation with Pennsylvania Weed and Seed. In 2002, in recognition of his work on behalf of Pennsylvania communities, David was awarded an Eisenhower Fellowship, which he used to study leadership and its impact on economic and community development in Turkey. In 2009, in recognition of his development of an accredited Associate Degree program in Leadership delivered in underserved neighborhoods through innovative community-education partnerships, Mr. Castro was named an Ashoka Fellow by the Ashoka Global Funds for Social Change. Ashoka is an international community of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs. A teacher at heart, David is frequently consulted as a speaker, serving on panel discussions and contributing regularly via blogs and articles posted through the Kellogg Fellows Leadership Alliance and the Ashoka network.