Peter Flanigan was the first man Debra De Jesus-Vizzi could ever trust.
When they met in 1976, De Jesus-Vizzi was a teenager living in a group home run by the Sisters of Good Shepherd and Flanigan, a friend of the nuns, was a wealthy investment banker looking to give back. That's why he offered to send De Jesus-Vizzi to Cathedral High School in New York City and also serve as her mentor.
More than 40 years later, the positive ripple effects of that offer are still being felt today by thousands of New Yorkers around the city.
"It wasn't just school. It allowed me to be a mother, it allowed me to be a wife, it allowed me to be a productive and generous citizen," De Jesus-Vizzi said of Flanigan's support.
Now 56, De Jesus-Vizzi is the executive director of Student Sponsor Partners, a nonprofit Flanigan founded in 1986, built largely in the image of that original relationship with De Jesus-Vizzi. Those close to Student Sponsor Partners credit the organization with helping nurture thousands of other productive citizens through a combination of mentorship and full tuition to quality private, mostly Catholic, high schools.
Those close to Student Sponsor Partners also say its high success rate points not only to the power of effective mentorship, but also to the continued relevancy of Catholic education in an era where more and more Catholic schools are being closed down.
"What Peter [Flanigan] understood -- probably before anybody was really talking about charter schools and educational freedom -- was that kids, no matter where they were, no matter who they were, no matter what the income, deserve the right to be able to go to the school of their choice and be afforded the opportunity to go to private schools," said De Jesus-Vizzi.