King, often drawn to working with children who didn’t have families, spent more than three decades in various roles at Wediko Children’s Services. After reading a New York Times article by Michael Winerip titled “Out of Foster Care and into College,” King got an idea that connected her passion with her love of vibrant college campuses. In 2015, she launched the Wily Network, a first-of-its-kind nonprofit organization that ensures students “have the tools and networks necessary to thrive in four-year residential colleges and transition successfully into post-college life.”
The Wily Network supports talented students — known as Wily Scholars — mostly through partnerships with Boston-area colleges and universities. While more than 50 similar programs exist, all of them are hosted by higher education institutions. King saw a unique opportunity in Boston, a city with nearly three dozen colleges and almost 100 within a 50-mile radius, and launched the only community-based program in the country.
Wily Scholars are supported in many ways. Each is assigned a coach who is a clinically trained social worker with experience supporting people managing trauma. Coaches and Scholars develop a “deep, personal, and transformational relationship,” according to King, thanks to weekly meetings on the Scholar’s campus and the coach being available 24/7 to help students manage obstacles and celebrate achievements.
“[These students have] stood very still in a tornado of chaos. No one told them at four years old that college would be their ticket out, and no one told them that they’d do everything in their power to get them through college. They did this all on their own. They are trailblazers.”
As coaches we tell [students], ‘You are the expert in your life. I’m here to help you problem solve,’” King explains. “Colleges assume that every student has someone who is willing to run through fire for them to make sure they have what they need. Most Wily Scholars have people in their lives who care about them but can’t parent them in this critical developmental stage. What we provide for our Scholars is what I call ‘the assist.’ Sometimes that assist is critical and life-changing. And sometimes it’s just being their champion.”
The network also provides Scholars with financial support for items like clothing, books, computers, cell phones, dorm room necessities, and transportation, as well as community building and professional development opportunities. Scholars get to attend events with their Wily peers such as Dining Out with Wily dinners, career fairs, and Community Days that include activities, presentations, and roundtable discussions. King wants to ensure Wiley Scholars can see, trust in, and feel empowered by their support system at every turn during their college experience.
“We’re talking about a group of students who haven’t had agency in their lives. They’ve stood very still in a tornado of chaos,” she says. “No one told them at four years old that college would be their ticket out, and no one told them that they’d do everything in their power to get them through college. They did this all on their own. They are trailblazers.”
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To date, the Wily Network has supported more than 100 scholars and involved a cohort of Hamiltonians, including current employees Mike Holliday ’17 (major gifts manager) and Nathalia Mahabir ’17 (clinical scholar coach), and other alumni, staff, and faculty who have supported the program by volunteering their time and financial resources. King describes the organization and those who work for and get involved with it as “present and future-focused,” all with the goal of making the college experience a more accessible and equitable one.
“The students who we work with add so much value to every college campus,” King says. “This is who colleges want on their campuses, so let’s find ways to take care of them.”