Author Archives: Colleen Phelan

Together with our partner Notre Dame High School, we will hosting a dynamic panel discussion about the impact of mentoring youth in your community.

Our panelists will be Bob Cunningham, Henry Rondon, and former ND/Shepherds Student and Mentor Jonathan Kearney. Their bios can be found in the flyer below.  To register for this event, please click here.

director announcement

Dear Shepherds Friend,

With just a little over three months to go in this school year, our successful 2020 COVID motto, Adapt, Innovate and Overcome is graduating early. From lessons learned over the past year and new skills developed, we celebrate a new sense of community in the Shepherds family. Building on the past and looking ahead, we inaugurating our new motto, “We’re Better Together.”

This health crisis has forced us to take stock of what is important and, more importantly, who is important in our lives. There has been nothing ‘extra’ during the past year. Everyone has been forced to winnow our personal contacts and activities to the bare essential – to the crucial.

The Shepherds team recognizes more than ever your indispensable role in our mission of closing the education opportunity gap in Fairfield and New Haven counties.

On behalf of the Shepherds Board and Staff, I want to take this opportunity to recognize and thank our mentors, families, school liaisons and school partners for pulling together and making this past school year a successful one, despite the challenges faced on so many levels. Each one of you is part of our critical ‘pod’, ensuring the success of our program for our Shepherds Students. There is still more work to be done.

As we are hopeful about the end of this health crisis with vaccines rolling out at a steady clip, Shepherds is already looking to the future by planning for the fall of 2021 by lining up mentors and financial resources for the incoming class. Circling back to our motto of We’re Better Together, we would like to ask that you become Shepherds Ambassadors by sharing information about our program with individuals like yourself who want to make a big impact on high school students in their own backyard. We will be sending a Spread the Word About Shepherds Tool Kit in another email soon. We appreciate any assistance you can give us.

Working together, we believe the future is bright for current Shepherds Students and the incoming class of 2025. Real change is more than any one of us can do alone – but it’s not more than all of us can do TOGETHER.



Dan McAuliffe

Executive Director


When asked about what made him interested in Shepherds, Jim said, “As my career was winding down as I approached retirement, I was on the lookout to engage in purpose-driven activities to give back to the community.” Jim decided to reach out to Shepherds after seeing a flyer in the Fairfield Prep newsletter, where his son attends high school . “After conversations with Dan McAuliffe and Amy Chickles, I was even more impressed with the small, local nature of the Shepherds program and it fit my needs for an organization where I could add value and make a difference.”

Jim enjoys his mentor role very much with sophomore Elijah at Kolbe, “Being a successful mentor takes a great investment in time, effort, and emotion to make a difference.  I love that the mentor experience can have a positive impact on one student at a time.” As a Shepherds Board Member, Jim is very aware of the need to raise money to support the Shepherds program. Jim believes he has made an excellent investment of his both his time and donations supporting Shepherds Students.

Jim may mentor a Kolbe Cathedral Student, but his responsibility on the Shepherds Board is to help further develop Shepherds in the New Haven area. “While enhancing our relationship with our academic partner, Notre Dame West Haven, I’m also looking to increase the involvement of the New Haven area in terms of mentoring and financial support.”

Jim recognizes that one person cannot create major change alone. Shepherds along with our academic partner schools, mentors, donors, and sponsors can make a tremendous impact on the lives of Shepherds Students.

Shepherds had to get creative this year with our Career Day due to the pandemic. Mother Necessity is the springboard for innovation, and our first virtual Career Conversation focusing on Healthcare was a smashing success which will impact future Career Days for years to come.

Organized and led by Shepherds Intern, Sydney King, Shepherds Students learned about a variety of healthcare positions, the education and skills needed and what day to day looks like for each career. Using Zoom breakout rooms, students were able to interact with the healthcare professionals in a smaller group.

A special thank you to our volunteers who shared their experiences with our students. Bernie Parks – nurse. Janet Wells – Lab Work. Kara Mather – Sports Medicine. Kathy Colucci – Hospital Pharmacist. Melissa Czajkowski – Nurse Practitioner.

The pandemic has shined a light on socio-economic disparities in education in Connecticut. Per the CT Mirror, this Spring during the COVID-19 shutdown of schools “In Bridgeport, a full half of the student body didn’t show up regularly for remote schooling during the pandemic compared to 19% who were chronically absent before school buildings closed.” Likewise  in New Haven, public school district leadership told the State Education Accountability Committee, that during the first week of remote learning this fall an estimated 65% of the students participated. As a point of comparison, Fairfield Warde and Ludlowe High Schools had participation rates in the 90+% this September per CT Data.

Now more than ever, inner city high school students have more barriers to accessing a quality, college preparatory high school education. For 22 years, Shepherds has been addressing educational disparities in Fairfield and New Haven Counties. Our track record speaks for itself. 95% of our students graduate on time and 90% attend institutes of higher learning after high school, as compared to their public school peers graduation rates of 65-75% and college entrance rates hovering around 60%.

The needs of inner city high school students in Connecticut are greater than ever. With a donation to Shepherds today, you will be investing in a student’s future and helping solve the education opportunity gap right in your own backyard.

In an exceptionally challenging year for nonprofits, Shepherds is extraordinarily grateful for a recent contribution from the Heisman Trophy Trust. Their generous gift will help fund tuition and programing for Shepherds students at Notre Dame West Haven High School.

Thank you to the Trustees of the Heisman Trophy Trust for your continuing your long-standing commitment to Shepherds and our students.

Thanks to the generosity of many individuals and foundations, like the Heisman Trophy Trust, Shepherds has been helping close the educational opportunity gap in Connecticut’s inner cities for 22 years.

Mentor Training

Mentoring young people relies upon the power of interpersonal connections with their mentors. Maintaining those connections can be challenging during COVID and creating new ones can prove to be even trickier. Shepherds has met these challenges head-on for our new mentors for the students of the Shepherds Class of 2024.

Shepherds has a robust training program for mentors, students and their families which normally takes place in person. COVID has changed our training program to a hybrid of virtual and in-person training which has required some adjustments. We are happy to report that our new mentors and freshman students have begun making solid personal connections.

Zoom meetings kicked off mentor training with a focus on mentoring expectations and mentoring in safe virtual and in-person environments. Our staff was impressed with how engaged our mentors were during these sessions. Up next were parent and student training sessions followed up with in-person meetings for most and a virtual meet up for one mentor, student and parent.

When mentors, students and parents met for the first time, it became clear that it is easy to be social and get to know another and still stay six feet apart. Shepherds Staff witnessed the beginning of new relationships and being physically distant, wearing masks and using hand sanitizer didn’t change a thing.

I am
For over 20 years, Shepherds has been empowering inner-city Connecticut teens to build a foundation for success by helping close the educational inequality gap in Fairfield and New Haven counties.
Shepherds provides each student the tuition support to attend a college preparatory education, academic and life skills programs, and the positive role model and four-year guidance of a Shepherds Mentor.
Shepherds is repeatedly asked the question, “Who are your students?” We are able to provide the demographics of race, gender, income difficulties, etc., and these are important data points about our students. However, it doesn’t capture who they ARE.
This year, we asked the incoming freshman to write a poem entitled, “I AM.” Shepherds believes these poems are powerful statements about who our students are – what their hopes, goals, dreams and fears are.
To find out how you can be a part of changing a teen’s life, go to or contact Executive Director Dan McAuliffe at
You can make a difference, right in your own backyard.
ice cream
The final day of Cougar Camp 2020 was a great celebration of new friendships and new skills learned by our Shepherds Students.
Led by KCHS Teacher Alex Szabo, Shepherds Freshman worked together to make ice cream without using a freezer or ice cream maker. Ziploc bags, ice cubes, salt, milk, sugar, vanilla, and cocoa powder for those who wanted chocolate ice cream, were all the supplies used to make a celebratory treat! Students learned a great deal of chemistry while making their dessert. They learned about phase changes, melting points, and how salt can make a difference in freezing temperatures. Learning really is FUN-damental!
Shepherds is incredibly grateful to all the people that help make Cougar Camp 2020 a great orientation week for our Class of 2024! We would like to thank Shepherds Liaison Lisa Matson, KCHC Principal Camille Figluizzi, Dean of Student Life Rich Crocco, librarian and school technology coordinator, Shelly Stedman, and math teacher Ed Steadham.