Breakthrough New York on Announcement to End Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program

(New York, NY) Rhea Wong, Executive Director of Breakthrough New York, today issued the following statement regarding the Trump administration’s announcement to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative, known as DACA: 

Hard-working immigrants built this country and made it what it is today: a beacon of democracy, hope and progress.  By denying Dreamers a chance to stay and contribute, President Trump has ripped the fabric of our country and undermined our most cherished American principles and ideals.

We know that first-hand that Dreamers are hard-working and compassionate individuals whose talents and values make our country better. This year, Breakthrough New York had the honor of hiring college student Gabe Sanchez as a Teaching Fellow in our summer program. He is an invaluable member of our team who dedicated his summer to mentoring our middle school students in the SOuth Bronx and expanding their physics knowledge. He is also a DACA recipient whose dreams of teaching science and pursuing graduate studies are in jeopardy because of the Trump administration (read more about Gabe here and here).  

At Breakthrough New York, our students aspire to succeed in their schools, in their careers, and in their lives. Whether DACA recipients or not, they mirror Dreamers in many ways: they range in age from 11 to 22, they have limited financial means but an abundance of ambition and grit, they are nearly all black, Latino, and Asian, and most importantly, they seek opportunity.

Repealing DACA threatens to forever impact families who sought a better life, and who have made contributions to strengthen our nation. These 800,000 young people are American in all ways, save one piece of paper.  They are students, neighbors, co-workers and friends.

We will not stand by as our community is attacked. We will stand up for what is right and do everything we can to support Dreamers in these difficult months ahead.  We vow to continue to provide our students with the intellectual tools and critical thinking skills to fight back against hateful ideals. We implore our elected leaders in Congress to work together to find a solution to keep Dreamers thriving in the US.

To make America great again means remembering what made it great in the first place.

Statement on events in Charlottesville, VA


The entire Breakthrough New York family was horrified by the events in Charlottesville last weekend. It was an appalling reminder that vicious racism still thrives in parts of our society. We were further disheartened when President Trump initially did not condemn the perpetrators and name them for what they are: white supremacists and domestic terrorists. It was, unfortunately, the latest example of the President failing us and, more importantly, our children.

What made last weekend’s events even more shocking is that they occurred on a college campus—the University of Virginia—where young people from all over the world come to learn in a safe, racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse environment.

At Breakthrough New York, we help our students get into top colleges and college-prep high schools, not only for the first-class education they will receive, but also so they can participate in extracurricular groups and social activities with peers whose backgrounds and perspectives differ from their own. Tragedies like the events in Charlottesville only strengthen our commitment to supporting our students and preparing them for success in a diverse world.

This fall, Breakthrough New York will proudly send two incoming freshmen to the University of Virginia, and over 120 others to colleges and boarding schools across the country, away from the familiarity of home.

To these, and all, our students, we say, unequivocally: we’ve got your back.

In addition to the support services we provide our students, we also encourage them to find supportive groups and communities on their campuses, and to build nurturing relationships with other students, faculty members, and administrators. We are in dialogue with the Office of African American Affairs at the University of Virginia to ensure our students successfully transition there, and are committed to establishing similar connections for all of our students.

We also say, with great confidence: you will be the force that changes the world.

We are inspired to see so many Breakthrough New York students taking a stand by participating in peaceful protests and vigils in response to the hatred and violence in Charlottesville. The truth is, dealing with tough issues head-on is nothing new for our students. From participating in robust current events debates in our classrooms, to tackling prejudice and inequality in their own lives, our students have the passion, commitment, and knowledge to make our world a more just and humane place for future generations.

Rhea's Departure

Dear BTNY family,

After 12 incredibly memorable years of helping our students achieve their college dreams, I have decided to leave Breakthrough New York at the end of 2017. I made this decision after careful deliberation, realizing the time is right for me, both personally and professionally.

We have always encouraged you to take positive risks and have a growth mindset. For me, stepping away from the familiar Breakthrough world in order to keep growing and learning — to step outside of my comfort zone — is following my own advice. I know change is hard for all of us, but we’ll all be OK. I promise.

Over the last 12 years, I have been a part of your lives in times of joy and in times of sorrow. I have celebrated your successes and walked with you through tough times. We are family and that will never change no matter what and no matter where life takes us.

I want to assure you nothing will change for you at Breakthrough New York. We will work as diligently as ever to help you obtain a first-class education, from middle school through college, and into careers. Our dedicated staff, Teaching Fellows, and volunteers will continue to provide you with top-notch tutoring, mentoring, and guidance.

The leadership transition will be done thoughtfully and effectively. Our board of directors has formed a selection committee and will hire an executive search firm to help us find the new executive director. In the meantime, I will continue in the position for the coming months.

Serving as executive director of Breakthrough New York has been the greatest privilege of my life, thanks to you, our amazing students and parents. Because of your commitment to our program, Breakthrough New York has grown tremendously since I became executive director in 2005. Today, we are proud to serve more than 500 students at three sites, with a full 10 years of robust support. And we will keep that momentum going.

As many of you know, I have been a part of Breakthrough since I was a middle school student in San Francisco; I will forever be part of this community. While I have yet to decide the next step in my career, I will always be a passionate advocate for students, education equality, and Breakthrough New York. 

I love you all dearly and will always be in your corner, rooting for you and (in spirit) reminding you to give a firm handshake, to look people in the eye, to speak up with confidence, to not say “um,” “like,” or “you know,” and to eat your vegetables. These are lessons I hope you remember for the rest of your life.

Above all, remember this: You are special. You are loved. You are our family, and we are yours.  Forever.

I look forward to continuing to work with you this fall, and will keep you updated on our search for Breakthrough New York’s next executive director.
With love,

Rhea Wong
Executive Director
Breakthrough New York

Teaching Fellows Step to the Head of the Class


One key to Breakthrough New York’s success is our unique “students-teaching-students” model. This time of year, that means bringing many of the nation’s brightest college students into our classrooms, to serve as BTNY Teaching Fellows, instructing and inspiring our middle school students during our six-week summer program.

When our 2017 program begins on July 3rd a cohort of 72 Teaching Fellows will step to the head of the class to help our rising seventh, eighth, and ninth graders bolster their writing, literature, math, and science skills. They will also serve as role models for our students, most of whom have little or no exposure to college students and graduates at home.

This year’s Teaching Fellows were selected from a group of over 400 applicants, based on academic accomplishment, leadership experience, and ability to learn teaching techniques as demonstrated during the interview process. More than half of this year’s Teaching Fellows are African American, Latino, or Asian, and 21 are STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics) majors. We have eight returning Teaching Fellows and two Teaching Fellows who are current BTNY students

Earlier in June, our Teaching Fellows underwent three weeks of intensive training, including mock teaching sessions. During the summer, they will be serving at our Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Bronx sites, where they will each teach one academic class and one elective class, such as basketball, soccer, choir, drama, or karate. Additionally, they will participate in weekly special events with students, including Diversity Day, Spirit Olympics, and Career Day on July 27, which will include all grade levels this year. Instructional coaches support the Teaching Fellows with content and lesson planning, and feedback, throughout the summer.

An impressive 90% of the program’s past summer instructors have gone on to pursue careers in education, with many citing their experience at BTNY as their inspiration. It’s no wonder that our Teaching Fellows program is consistently named a Princeton Review Top Ten internship!

This year’s Teaching Fellows hail from prestigious colleges across the country:


Amherst College                       Mills College                                          Spelman College 

Boston College                         Minerva Schools at KGI                         St John's University

Bowdoin College                      Montclair State University                      St. Gregory's University

Brandeis University                  Mount Holyoke College                          SUNY at Binghamton

Brown University                      Muhlenberg College                               University at Buffalo

Colby College                           New York University                               The University of Chicago

Colgate University                    Oakwood University                               University of Michigan

Columbia University                 Oberlin College                                       University of Missouri

Cornell University                     Occidental College                                 University of New Hampshire

CUNY Hunter College              The Ohio State University                      University of North Carolina

Dickinson College                     Oregon State University                        University of North Texas

Elmhurst College                       Pace University                                      University of Pittsburgh

Elon University                          Pomona College                                     University of Southern

Emory University                       Princeton University                               University of Texas

Fordham University                   Scripps College                                      Vanderbilt University

Haverford College                     Sewanee-The University of the South  Wesleyan University

Howard University                     Skidmore College                                   Wheaton College

Marist College                            Smith College

Michigan State University


News Release: Breakthrough New York’s Rhea Wong Selected as a New York Nonprofit Media 40 Under 40 Rising Stars Honoree

June 13, 2017
Contact:  Zac Roy, 917-822-7203,

(New York, N.Y.) – New York Nonprofit Media has selected Rhea Wong, executive director of Breakthrough New York (BTNY), as a New York Nonprofit Media 40 Under 40 Rising Stars honoree. The awards program, now in its third year, annually recognizes 40 individuals under the age of 40 who are doing outstanding work in the nonprofit sector.

Since 2005, Ms. Wong has led BTNY, a nonprofit organization that shepherds low-income, high-achieving students from New York City public middle schools all the way through college.

“It is an honor to be chosen as a New York Nonprofit Media Rising Star,” Ms. Wong said. “This award was made possible by the hard work that the entire Breakthrough New York team does, day in and day out, to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds achieve their college dreams and to help advance the cause of education equality.”

Ms. Wong and this year’s other Rising Stars awardees will be honored at a celebratory breakfast event on July 19 at The Capital Grille in Downtown Manhattan and profiled in a special print publication distributed at the event. 

During her tenure as executive director, Ms. Wong has grown BTNY from a tiny operation with a $250,000 budget, one program site, and a staff of two, into a thriving nonprofit with a $2.7 million budget, a robust board, three program sites, and a staff of 15. She has expanded BTNY’s services, which include after-school tutoring, summer enrichment programming, SAT prep, high school and college admissions guidance, mentorship, internship placement and, since 2014, an additional four years of support through college graduation.

The organization has achieved unprecedented mission success under Ms. Wong’s leadership, shepherding 100% of its students from middle school to four-year colleges and continuing to develop the educators of tomorrow with its unique students-teaching-students model and Teaching Fellows program.

Ms. Wong was once a Breakthrough student herself. Growing up in San Francisco, she sought to defy society’s narrow expectations for Asian women and people from low-income families. She credits the Breakthrough program for putting her on a path to success as a teen and is deeply passionate about giving back, and opening doors for generations of other students like herself.

Following her college graduation from McGill University in Montreal, she worked at the Breakthrough Collaborative National Office in San Francisco in national Teaching Fellow recruitment at top university campuses nationwide, and created the Collaborative’s first on-campus recruiter program.

About Breakthrough New York

Breakthrough New York transforms the lives of talented kids from low-income backgrounds by providing educational support from middle school through college and into careers. We also inspire talented young people to enter careers in education through our students-teaching-students model. Our goal is to create leaders who break the cycle of poverty in their families and effect positive change in their communities. Learn more at Follow us on social media: Facebook – Instagram – Twitter @BreakthroughNY

About New York Nonprofit Media

New York Nonprofit Media is the must-read news source for New York’s nonprofits. Each week, NYN Media’s original reporting is featured in City & State Magazine, the premier news organization dedicated to New York’s government, political and advocacy news. First Read Nonprofit, our powerhouse e-newsletter, features the latest stories that impact the nonprofit community every day. With a featured job site and dedicated events division, NYN Media is the go-to resource for nonprofit professionals. For more information, please visit  

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