By Journalist Ms. Jones
CHAPPAQUA – Most people know Vanessa Williams as the first African American to win the title of Miss America in 1983 and for playing Teri Joseph in the classic film “Soul Food” in 1997. But, Williams is also a Grammy Award Winning Singer who “took everybody back” on Tuesday, December 18, 2018 at San Miguel Academy of Newburgh’s Holiday Benefit Concert with hits like, “The Right Stuff,” “Dreamin,” and “Save the Best for Last.” Williams and Recording Artist Frank Shiner gifted the concert to San Miguel Academy of Newburgh, an independent, faith based middle school for students from underserved families. The concert was held at the Chappaqua Performing Arts Center.
“I’m so happy that this night came together… I am so happy to… be able to do things for children,” said Williams who is a long-time supporter of San Miguel Academy and friend of Executive Director Father Mark Connell. “When he [Father Mark] told me that he was starting the school way back when it was an idea I was on board.”
Williams has received awards for her humanitarian contributions.
“She’s very generous with her time and sharing her talents and I’m proud of her for that,” said her mother Helen Williams who co-wrote the New York Times Best Seller “You Have No Idea: A Famous Daughter, Her No-Nonsense Mother, and How They Survived Pageants, Hollywood, Love, Loss (and Each Other)” with her daughter Vanessa in 2012.
The goal of San Miguel Academy is to combat the cycle of poverty by means of education. Students who attend San Miguel Academy are afforded twelve years of academic, personal, financial, and family support to help them with high school and college and put themselves in a place of success.
“It [San Miguel Academy] made me more open to opportunities because in Newburgh growing up… we don’t see that many opportunities… If it wasn’t for San Miguel, I’m not gonna lie, I don’t know where I would be right now,” said Lisandro Chihuahua an alumnus of San Miguel Academy, the all-boys school, and is currently a sophomore in college. “There’s less distractions. It’s more about the brotherhood because we’ve always got each other’s back and it’s taught us to become… men, more respectful. It goes well beyond middle school.”
Connell founded San Miguel Academy, a tuition-free school, in 2006.
“Tonight was unbelievable… How exciting and generous for Frank and Vanessa to do this for us. It’s an honor and a tribute to the boys and all of their hard work… They are the heroes of the school because to say no to the street and yes to your education in Urban America takes incredible courage… For some reason… people often make you feel bad about doing good, especially in school… We are so proud of them… The success stories are amazing,” said Father Mark Connell. “We have something to celebrate this year because we have boys graduating college. Our program has come to full maturity.”
San Miguel Academy doesn’t obtain monies from the government or the archdiocese.
“Everything is raised… grants, foundations… somebody making a legacy gift,” said Melissa Paul, Senior Development Officer at San Miguel Academy, who organized the Holiday Benefit Concert. “We have an amazing group of supporters.”