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New York’s Far Rockaway peninsula is known for its geographic isolation. Accessible by one train and a few bridges to the rest of Queens, most New Yorkers have only taken the 90 minute trip to the Rockaways for the occasional beach day, if at all. The struggle to attract Manhattan’s beach-goers isn’t the only consequence of Far Rockaway’s isolation. The community’s size and location also affects its ability to garner support and basic resources, where 10-20% of residents live below the poverty line. The same factors that prevent resources from reaching the peninsula also prevent peninsula residents from reaching beyond their neighborhood to access opportunities elsewhere.
Far Rockaway is home to ten ESS/Safe Space programs, including four afterschool programs that expand the horizons of youth. We build their academic, social, and job-related skill sets with experiential learning activities and projects that expose youth to the right people and technologies. When our afterschool students exit our program, they are prepared for success as scholars and ultimately as leaders in 21st century jobs. Carrying out that mission can be doubly challenging in some of our communities, located at the margins of our city, and isolated from some of the best local resources.
That’s where Centerbridge Partners comes in. The company partnered with ESS/Safe Space to provide a once-in-a-lifetime mentorship opportunity to students from our Far Rockaway Summer Enrichment program. A grant from Centerbridge, plus a group of 30 dedicated volunteers from the company, allowed us to bring students to the American Museum of Natural History. It was a significant departure from the norm for our students, particularly for those who had never left Far Rockaway in their lives. Students paired off with volunteer mentors who helped the students explore the museum and uncover the answers to a museum-wide scavenger hunt. Students learned about biodiversity, astronomy, and even some of the science behind global climate events that have seriously affected their community in the last few years.
Moreover, they learned about pathways to future careers they might not have considered before via a rare window into the world of their mentors. The time and attention from the volunteers is an important factor for middle school students developing the confidence and sense of self-worth to set goals and seize opportunities for future success.
“It’s not often that we can provide these kinds of opportunities to students from our Far Rockaway sites,” confirmed Berkley Semple, the Director of Afterschool Programs at ESS/Safe Space. “By giving their time, the volunteers show students that there are people outside of their schools and families who are cheering for them to succeed.”
Indeed, students and their mentees did come up with team cheers for their scavenger hunt groups. We echo their sentiments: “Three cheers for Centerbridge volunteers!”