Swampscott’s Saris takes LEAP into educating those in need

Above: LEAP for education cofounder and executive director Linda Saris (center) with brother and sister Josward Santana of Peabody (at left) and Idekelly Santana King of Lynn. Josward is a sophomore at Middlesex Community College and works full time at Citizens Bank. Idekelly graduated from Northeastern University in 2017 with a degree in mechanical engineering.

By Shelley A. Sackett

JANUARY 25, 2018 – SALEM – Linda Saris’ stellar resumé reads like every parent’s dream. A degree in economics and urban studies from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from the University of Chicago led to a career that culminated in the senior vice presidency of RSA Security, a fast-growing tech company with 1,300 employees and $320 million in worldwide sales. Her leadership and entrepreneurial skills reaped increasing responsibility and commensurate compensation.

Yet through her quarter-century career, she always felt something was missing. “As a mother and full-time employee who traveled a lot, there was little time for community engagement,” the Swampscott resident said. “I did work in support of women’s advancement opportunities in the workplace, but looking back, I should have done more.”

Her “wake up call to do something different” came in 2001, when the tech bubble burst after 9/11. Saris took advantage of a generous severance package and left the private sector to start a nonprofit with a mission to teach tech skills to young people and their parents.

“It was my time to give back and honor my family and cultural tradition of tzedakah,” she said.

Named Salem CyberSpace, the startup began as part of a larger nonprofit called North Shore Community Action Programs and served seven Salem students in 2003. Today, after going solo in 2004, it is known as LEAP for Education, and a $1 million budget allows it to reach over 800 students per year, primarily in Peabody and Salem.

With its mission to help low-income and first generation American students succeed in middle school, high school, and college, LEAP also educates parents on the college process and financing. It now has a staff of 17 and over 100 volunteers. Saris is understandably proud of LEAP’s 100 percent high school graduation rate and 85 percent college access and retention rates.

While LEAP continues to focus on teaching tech skills and emphasizes STEM – a curriculum based on science, technology, engineering, and math – it has adapted to changing demographics by also providing arts programs and English literacy for the growing immigrant population for whom English is a second language.

According to Saris, organizations like LEAP are especially important during this current administration. “LEAP helps to support, educate, affirm, and make feel welcome young people [and their families] from a variety of countries,” she said.

When new and longtime citizens meet and build connections across ethnic and cultural lines, Saris thinks the resulting familiarity and understanding creates respect, tolerance, admiration, and affection among a diverse citizenry.

“Those qualities are the antidote to prejudice, ignorance, and scapegoating,” she said.

Saris was raised in West Roxbury and attended Congregation Mishkan Tefila in Newton (now in Brookline), where she became a bat mitzvah in 1965 and attended Hebrew school through 11th grade. While her home life was “not overly religious,” her parents and temple educators stressed the importance of charity and community engagement.

As a high school student, she volunteered at ABCD in Dorchester, tutoring young children. “I talked incessantly about the inequities I saw in our community and my parents pushed me to put action behind my words,” she said.

Growing up during the 1960s empowered Saris. “It was a decade of citizen empowerment, of despair and of hope,” she said. “The events around me, my family, my Jewish cultural roots, all foreshadowed the path I decided to take.”

Her sister Patti Saris, older by 11 months, serves as chief judge of the federal court in Boston, and it is evident the sisters share views on immigration that are at odds with the current administration. Last September, Judge Saris issued a temporary order stopping the Trump administration’s deportation of Indonesians without due process.

At a hearing last week, The Boston Globe reported she compared the Indonesian Christians facing possible torture or death in their Muslim-majority homeland to Jewish refugees trying to escape the Nazis on the St. Louis, a boat that left Germany with 937 passengers, mostly Jews, that was turned away by the US government in 1939. Many were later killed in the Holocaust.

“We’re not going to be that country,” Judge Saris said in court, according to the Globe.

“My sister has always been a source of inspiration and someone I always looked up to,” Linda Saris said. “She was very supportive when I changed my career. However, the drive to do what I did came from within me, with a lot of help from my family and the events of the day.”

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Anti-Defamation League honors Swampscott native

Diana Headshot

Diana Leader-Cramer

The Anti-Defamation League New England Region will present its 2017 Krupp Leadership Awards to Diana Leader-Cramer Moskowitz and Monica Snyder at its 15th Annual Young Leadership Celebration on Saturday, Dec. 16 at The Colonnade Hotel in Boston.

The award is given to community members who demonstrate outstanding dedication and leadership on behalf of the ADL.

Diana Leader-Cramer Moskowitz, a credit research analyst at Loomis Sayles, is one of the longest-serving members of the ADL Associate Board and has held various leadership positions, including co-chair of the programming and governance committees.

The Swampscott native credits Epstein Hillel School (then Cohen Hillel Academy) and her parents, “who lead and continue to lead by example,” for instilling in her a deep sense of wanting to give back to the Jewish community.

“Philanthropy has always been an important part of my Jewish identity and an important outlet for me. Despite working full-time and going to school part-time when I was pursuing my MBA, it was essential to me to stay involved with and support the causes that were important to me, such as the ADL,” the Wellesley resident and Washington University and Boston University alumna said.

After attending Cohen Hillel Academy, she volunteered as a teachers aid at the school and later continued her involvement with Temple Israel as a Torah reader until leaving for college. While in college, she continued to be an active member of the Jewish community, minoring in Jewish studies and becoming a member of the local Hillel and Jewish Student Union.

Monica Headshot

Monica Snyder

As an employment lawyer at Fisher & Phillips, LLP, a national labor employment firm in Boston, Monica Snyder’s chosen field greatly influences her involvement at ADL.

“My law firm represents employers in dealing with a wide array of employment matters, including issues involving discrimination,” she said. “I became a lawyer, in part, to cure the injustices in this world,” the Boston resident and Amherst College and Boston University School of Law alumna added.

Snyder co-chairs the Glass Leadership Committee and the Young Lawyers Committee, which provides opportunities for Boston area attorneys to network and to generate discussions through round tables and speakers.

A group made up of members of several ADL boards, directors and the prior year’s winners selects honorees.

“Monica and Diana embody ADL’s values and believe deeply in ADL’s mission. They are both widely respected leaders,” said Daniel Hart, director of Development New England Region Anti-Defamation League and a member of the selection committee.

The Young Leadership Celebration was created 15 years ago to recognize young leaders with a once-a-year signature event and to broaden ADL’s reach in the young leadership community in the Greater Boston area.

Both Snyder’s and Leader-Cramer Moskowitz’s involvement with ADL started with their acceptance into the Glass Leadership Institute, a year-long program that meets on a monthly basis, giving young adults the opportunity to learn what the ADL does first hand about issues facing communities. Shortly after, each decided to take on leadership responsibilities.

“This program gave us the opportunity to meet with experts from across the organization and learn about the different ways they make an impact on a daily basis. Gaining a full understanding of all the important work the ADL does motivated me to stay involved,” Leader-Cramer Moskowitz said.

Actively engaged in ADL since 2010, she spent two weeks in Germany in 2012 representing ADL in its partnership with the German government’s Close-Up program.

“I learned about Germany’s history and modern Jewish life. I am passionate about the ADL’s mission of promoting equality and fair treatment for all,” Leader-Cramer Moskowitz said.

She is proudest of her role in helping to create the Breaking Barrier speaker series that brings interesting and engaging speakers that are important to the ADL and to the community at large. Last year, Khizr Khan, the Pakistani American parent of United States Army Captain Humayun Khan, who was killed in 2004 during the Iraq War, joined the group for a conversation on religious freedom, civil rights, and security issues.

The 2017 series welcomed Christian Picciolini, a former neo-Nazi who now helps others counter all types of racism and violent extremism.

“These speakers bring important topics to the forefront and engage the community in discussions about what is happening and also what can be done to combat hate and promote equality for all,” Leader-Cramer Moskowitz said. “ADL’s expanded efforts to combat all kinds of hate is something that is critically and increasingly important today.”

For more information or to buy tickets, visit: http://bit.ly/2B5ugUF