In this episode of the podcast, we have the chance to speak with Lender Vega, who works full-time at BTS Philly as the Wrestling Coordinator. Lender has a rich history with the Beat the Streets program.
While we often talk about the intersection of academics and athletics, Lender’s story has an unusual twist. During a freshman year seminar, his teacher offered the students five extra points if they participated in a sport. Lender jumped at the opportunity and joined the wrestling team. Despite a rocky start, Lender fell in love with the sport and continued improving.
Lender’s life journey has been defined by his resilience. He moved to the US from the Dominican Republic when he was just 11 years old, and at the time he didn’t know English. But Lender committed himself to school and began to excel in the classroom. “My dad from day one said: don't get in trouble and keep your grades up.”
As Lender advanced on the wrestling mat, he began thinking about wrestling in college. Unlike today, Beat the Streets didn’t have a formalized mentoring program at the time. So former Executive Director Chris Hanlon walked him through the college admission process and took him on school visits.
In the podcast, Executive Director James Mangan points out, “In a lot of ways, this was a pilot phase of the mentoring program. Beat the Streets was well-equipped to address the needs from a wrestling perspective, but it was always in the plan to figure out how to also serve academically. And you were early in that phase of discovery.”
Lender finally settled on a Junior College in New Jersey, but his challenges didn’t stop there. Lender found that his public school education didn’t prepare him for the rigors of college, and despite his best effort, he failed out of school.
It was at this tough time that Chris Hanlon reached out. “Hanlon just said, ‘Hey, stick around us and we'll see where you're where you'll land.’” He brought Lender on as a coach for Beat the Street youth. But Lender’s story doesn’t stop there. After a year of coaching, he decided to go back to school.
Lender eventually graduated from East Stroudsburg University, becoming the first college graduate in his family. And now as the Wrestling Coordinator at Beat the Streets he is doing amazing work and serving the community that he comes from. We are grateful to have Lender in the Beat the Streets family!