The Keys to Success
Rad Nova’s Journey from the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence to CEO of Junior Achievement of Northern New England
Radhames Nova didn’t speak a word of English in 1989, when he moved from the Dominican Republic at age 13 and enrolled in Lawrence High School.
A family friend introduced him to the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence. Nova says he initially saw it as a fun place to hang out after school, but within a year, the positive influence of the club and staff set him on a path toward meeting then-President Bill Clinton and, ultimately, his current role as president and CEO at Waltham-based Junior Achievement of Northern New England.
Nova attended Catholic school in the Dominican Republic, where nuns set high standards for academics and discipline. In the larger classrooms of Lawrence High, he says he felt “like a fish out of water.”
Steve Kelley, the associate director of the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence, remembers when Nova asked him for help in applying for a Montagne Scholarship to attend Central Catholic High School. When Nova’s limited English caused him to do poorly on the entrance exam, Kelley arranged a meeting between Nova and the principal at the time, Brother Kenneth Hogan.
“After they talked awhile, [Hogan] said to me, ‘This kid will be fine.’ And he shined there,” Kelley said. “Rad was a great kid, and a gifted student, but I mostly remember him being such a hard worker. His heart is in helping people reach goals they never thought they could reach, which is his real gift.”
Nova attended the Boys & Girls Club until he graduated from Central Catholic in 1993. He was selected as the club’s 1993 Youth of the Year and named runner-up in Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s national competition of the same name.
“I did a lot of public speaking for the competition, and I learned to tell my story in a concise and impactful way in front of large groups of people,” Nova said. “I’ve used those skills ever since.”
Nova spent three semesters studying abroad before volunteering for the Peace Corps in South Africa from 1998 to 2000.
“I thought about pursuing an international career,” said Nova, who holds a B.A. from Middlebury College and an MBA from Boston University, “but I was drawn back to Lawrence to make an impact at home.”
Nova served for four years as the first development director at the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence. He raised $14.5 million, including $8.5 million for a capital campaign to build the current facility on Water Street. After working for five years in the financial services industry, Nova says he experienced an epiphany.
“It was time to come back to the mission-driven work that is my passion,” he said.
For the next four years, Nova served as executive director of the Boston chapter of ALPFA (the Association of Latino Professionals For America). He then took on the national role of senior vice president of strategic and corporate partnerships. In October 2016, he resumed working on behalf of youths by joining Junior Achievement of Northern New England.
“I’ve seen the benefits of youth organizations, because the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence did so much for me,” Nova said. “As a boy from a single-parent household in Lawrence, I could have caused trouble for my family, school and community. Instead, a very special group of adults was invested in my success, encouraging me when I was doing well, and asking why and trying to help when I wasn’t. That’s what Junior Achievement does: get caring adults in front of students.”
Successes and challenges
With an annual budget of $1.8 million, funded solely by donations and special events, Junior Achievement of Northern New England taught financial literacy, entrepreneurship and workforce readiness to 23,802 youths during the 2015-16 school year. The organization, which does not charge schools or students, focuses on serving disadvantaged K-12 students in Barnstable, Dukes, Essex, Middlesex, Plymouth, Norfolk, Nantucket, Suffolk and Worcester counties, as well as others in New Hampshire.
“The corporations that support Junior Achievement understand that investing in our youth now is critical to our collective success in the future,” Nova said, noting the example of Santander Bank. Among the largest financial contributors to Junior Achievement of Northern New England, more than 100 of its employees have volunteered for programs this school year, including hosting a Lawrence High School class at its downtown Boston headquarters.
“As a product of the Merrimack Valley, I’m personally committed to doing more for our community,” Nova added. “I welcome area educators, volunteers, corporations and funders to join me.”
For more information, visit www.janewengland.org.