SOUTHINGTON — A foundation in honor of a Southington High School graduate is helping students connect with mentors and recently sponsored a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The Make It Different Foundation was created by Ty Harris’ mother, Deborah Garner. Harris, 19, died in a car accident last year that took the lives of two other young people and injured another.
Garner wants to support high school students, like her son, who need mentorship and learning opportunities.
She also started working with the high school’s multicultural club in December after a social video surfaced showing a white student threatening black classmates.
“The students were very discouraged,” Garner said.
Earlier this month, 25 students traveled to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“This trip, in particular, was selected in an effort to expose our youth to the roots of Greco-Roman and African civilizations as a point of origin and reference to make current-day connections,” Garner said. “The foundation's vision is to see these kind of field trips and activities continue.”
Jennifer Paul, a high school teacher and leader of the multicultural club, said the trip sparked enthusiasm for art, photography and ancient people.
“I got to see a different side of kids,” she said. “They really shined.”
The trip, which included buses, trains and subways, was also a fun bonding experience for the kids, Paul said.
Garner’s foundation has also brought high school graduates to the group to offer career, college and life advice.
“It’s powerful because sometimes high school feels like everything. The graduates are saying, ‘It’s not. Here I am now, and it’s so much better than where I was in high school,’” Paul said.
She and Garner are preparing more mentorship opportunities for local teens. Paul described Garner as “amazing” and praised how she interacted with students.
“The kids call her momma Deb,” Paul said. “She’s a spirit of light. The kids just gravitate toward her.”
The group is planning a basketball tournament in honor of Harris’ birthday that could become an annual event.
Garner named the foundation after her son’s motto, “different.” He played football at Southington High School and hoped to have a music career.