Rising Leaders Academy (RLA) is a student leadership program for selected Brookdale Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) students where students gain leadership skills and experience in volunteering with local non-profits throughout New Jersey, with a focus on Monmouth County.

Since 2014 and including this academic year, more than 50 students have participated in RLA. Collectively, not including 2018-19, the students have logged more than 3,600 hours of community service for approximately 60 non-profit organizations and agencies statewide.

“Our students are making a difference in so many lives while learning about the importance of actively participating in the community,” said Catherine Cutlip, EOF service associate and leadership development coordinator. “These are lessons that we hope, and have seen with our graduates, that extend beyond our students’ time here at Brookdale.”

During the academic year, the students participate in several community-service projects in collaboration with non-profits and agencies. The competitive program requires students to submit an application demonstrating their academic credentials and commitment to service opportunities.


The students have logged more than 3,600 hours of community service for approximately 60 non-profit organizations and agencies statewide since 2014, not including the current academic year.


“Through RLA’s work with various organizations, I have learned about many different and important issues, educated others, met so many role models and learned more about myself too,” said Ashley Feola, a psychology major who will graduate in fall 2019 and who is a two-year RLA member. Feola cited her work with Make a Wish Foundation, No One Eats Alone, Jersey Cares, Habitat for Humanity and Special Olympics as especially rewarding. She is currently working to raise awareness of homelessness through Asbury Park Sleep Out night and will work with Covenant House of New Jersey.

While at Brookdale, Feola learned about art therapy and plans to pursue a career as an art therapist with children cancer patients. She plans to complete her undergraduate degree at Caldwell University.

“The memories and friendships formed through RLA and our community outreach service and projects will last a lifetime,” said Feola. “It’s made an impact on me. There are so many worthy causes and organizations doing great work, and a few hours of one’s time and talent can make a difference.”

Very often, the community service projects bolster the student’s link with a specific career goal and aspiration.

“I’ve had great experiences volunteering and met inspiring people,” said Josh Silva. ”I remember talking with a man at the walk for leukemia in my home town of Long Branch whose young daughter was going through treatment. It was truly touching.”

Silva’s current project is with The Mission Continues, a Newark-based veterans’ organization which is especially close to his heart and career goals. Silva plans to join the Marine Corps after completing his undergraduate degree.

“I’ve learned the value of reaching out to the community and how investing your time can have a ripple effect on others in need of assistance and help you to learn more about your interests and passion,” said Silva, who added that RLA has been a tremendous support network in juggling academic and college life.

Personal growth and skills enhancement are another outgrowth of participation in RLA.

“I’ve gained new skills and learned a lot about the missions of the various non-profits we have worked with during the academic year,” said Angelica Derose, a business major who will graduate this spring. “Because of my involvement through RLA, I definitely plan to continue volunteering and helping to build my local community ties after graduating from Brookdale.”

Derose will be working this semester on an individual project with Free Art in New York City.