The History of RenProject
RenProject has been as much a personal journey as a professional one. That is why I write this and many of these pages in first person. This is not a story that's ending we know, but a narrative that continues to unfold today. This particular page fills in some of the gaps of the story with details of how it all began. Our blog and our Facebook page are where our story continues to unfold in ways that we could have never predicted.
In the fall of 2007 seven Russian boys ages 9 through 11, came to America for an opportunity of a lifetime at North Broward Prepartory School in Coconut Creek, Florida. Promised an education through high school, the boys settled in for what they thought was going to be an exciting journey. Shortly after their arrival, I was hired to serve as house parent to the boys. (The original house parents weren't working out.) Little did I know where this would take me.
Within the year, their school reneged on its promises. In order to get out of their original contract which guaranteed through high school, they sent me to Russia with the boys and new contracts for the families to sign that would only provide one additional year and were told if they didn't sign, the school would not bring the boys back at all. Being families of little means that meant their options were to sign, or not return. They could not fight.
Seeing this, I vowed to do what I could to help the boys. My first strategy was to ask the school to simply give tuition scholarships and I would find families for the boys to live with, but the answer was no. Then, working with a friend, we incorporated The Renaissance Project, a 501(c)3 (RenProject for short). In the course of doing this, I was called into the school and corporate offices multiple times and threatened with having the boys shipped back early, being fired, or on a good day: both. The school clearly knew it was doing wrong and it wanted it all to simply go away.
A New School, A New Direction, birth of RenProject
In the spring of 2008, Academy at the Lakes Head of School, Mark Heller, contacted me hoping to hire me as a teacher. Having started a school together in 2000, we had a history of creating things together and meeting tough challenges head on. When I explained to Mr. Heller what I was doing with RenProject, Mr. Heller asked, "How do I get those boys to Academy?"
Unfortunately, due to Academy's considerably smaller size and smaller budget (not to mention the tough economic recession), they could only allow for three boys. So I made the difficult choice of who to bring back to America. Max, Daniil and Gleb became the inaugural group at Academy at the Lakes and of the newly minted RenProject.
I cashed in my life savings, my stocks, found a part time job (the teaching position at Academy at since been filled), and brought the boys back. I rented a dump of an apartment, sold my dream sports car and bought a family friendly car, reached out to friends for help to buy blankets, and dishes, etc. and gathered donations of used beds and other furniture. It was an adventure, but together in the fall of 2009 we started completely new lives in Land O' Lakes, FL, knowing only one another, and Mr. Heller.
Fast forward, Gleb is in nearly through with college and beginning his internship with Goldman-Sachs in New York City, Max is a sophomore at Alma College in Michigan, Daniil is starting his college career at Wittenberg University, and Tioma (who joined our ranks in 2011) is enjoying his high school experience. It has been a magical journey and the goal remains the same: to create opportunities for bright, deserving kids from around the world and with your help, we can do it!