Opening young minds to a world of education and opportunity can be challenging. Minds Matter introduces high school students to that world, which often exists outside of their neighborhoods and comfort zones.
Minds Matter of Cleveland can serve 58 students preparing for a four-year college. It is supported by a team of more than 200 volunteers dedicating more than 16,000 hours annually.
Sara Elaqad was appointed executive director of nonprofit Minds Matter in February 2018. She graduated from Case Western Reserve University School of Law and received a bachelor’s degree in internal relations and French from The Ohio State University. She also serves as a board member for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.
“We prepare students to show that they are good candidates for college,” says Elaqad. “We are expanding our work to support students through college to help them thrive on campus, earn their degree and help prepare them for professional careers through exposure, experience and support in the employment search process.”
Minds Matter’s mission unites students with a peer community that supports and encourages college-going and with caring and committed volunteers who have been to college.
In response to the pandemic, Minds Matter decided to go fully remote in March 2020, with the sessions taking place via Zoom. They worked hard to connect with students and help them feel engaged over the internet with encouragement, as well as give them the resources they needed to be successful. In addition to the challenges of the virtual environment for students, the organization had its biggest annual fundraiser last year to help keep things moving despite the setback.
“We all saw how hard it became at times for people through this pandemic to just move through life,” says Elaqad. “This past year, it was the pandemic, but difficult times happen. It’s important for young people to know they can find or build the tools they need and they can get themselves through difficult things”
“[Elaqad’s] number one focus is meeting the needs of all Minds Matter students,” says Joel Baxter, chairman of Minds Matter Cleveland. “She works tirelessly to promote the mission of the organization while engaging the Greater Cleveland community and the board of directors on initiatives that will allow us to increase the number of students served in the future.”
Board member Danielle Best agrees. “Sara celebrates student resiliency, continuously instills pride and pushes them to excel,” she says.
In the future, Minds Matter of Cleveland will continue working to serve more high school students and provide more significant support for their students in college through a comprehensive and robust curriculum.
“I consider my job to be to advocate for what students need even when it feels challenging,” says Elaqad. “I come from a diverse family — we are Croatian, Palestinian, Catholic and Muslim — and we have lived all over the place.
“The thing that people everywhere need is the ability to thrive,” she says. “If I can help make sure that is possible for all, I’m going to try to do my part.”