NEWBURGH – The week before Thanksgiving, the Boys and Girls Club of Newburgh, N.Y. was filled with fun and the thankful spirit as children cut out paper turkeys and learned about expressing gratitude.
The program, designed for students in grades K-3, was hosted by the freshman class of Mount Saint Mary College’s Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP). The afternoon included Thanksgiving crafts and a storytelling activity emphasizing the importance of being thankful.
The Mount representatives also hoped to instill in the youth that they too could achieve a college education.
“I think it is very important to serve the community and inspire the youth of Newburgh because it provides a sense of hope and motivation,” explained Yosibel Rodriguez, a freshman from Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. who took the lead in organizing the event. “I would like (the children) to know that it is never too early to start thinking about their future.”
The freshman, who hopes to be a teacher one day, is especially grateful this Thanksgiving for being part of the Mount’s HEOP, which provides educational opportunity and support to traditionally underserved students who have strong academic potential, but would otherwise be excluded from higher education due to circumstances of academic and economic disadvantage.
“Many people that I have grown up with are very intelligent and talented, but because resources are not available, their dreams are crushed,” Rodriguez noted. “Now that I have the opportunity to pursue my dreams in college, I feel it’s my duty to provide a sense of hope to the children of Newburgh and to inform them of opportunities similar to HEOP.”
Harmony Cross, director of HEOP at the Mount, explained that service is an integral part of the HEOP experience.
“It has been a tradition for the freshmen class…to conduct an annual outreach event in the City of Newburgh during the fall semester,” she said. “HEOP believes very strongly in creating relationships with local organizations, with the hopes of continuously educating the youth on college readiness and options for students who are traditionally underserved.”
“[We are] grateful for the opportunity to work with the Boys and Girls Club and look forward to collaborating with community organizations in the future,” Cross added.
Just one day before their visit to the Boys and Girls Club, the Mount’s HEOP partnered with the Newburgh Armory Unity Center to offer community identification cards. Cardholders can access a variety of local services more easily and the cards also help law enforcement agencies and emergency responders more quickly obtain critical information about those in need of assistance.
The Mount’s HEOP Leadership Council representatives allowed parents to drop off their children while they obtained their cards. Maria Rivera of the Bronx, N.Y., Stephanie Ortiz of Elmhurst, N.Y., Marie Pierre Mfuamba-Mukendi of Latham, N.Y., and Giselle Martinez of Newburgh, N.Y. helped the children to create handprint turkeys for Thanksgiving, write Letters to Santa, work on their reading skills, and more.
In addition to the Mount and the Armory, the event was hosted by the Worker Justice Center of New York, Latinos Unidos of the Hudson Valley, Planned Parenthood of the Mid-Hudson Valley, and the Newburgh Healthy Black and Latino Coalition.