Brownsville foster child speaks at gala

Sylvia Pericles of Brownsville addresses the Seamen’s Society Black & White Gala.
Photo by Bill Higgins
Photo by Bill Higgins

Sylvia Pericles, a 16-year-old foster child from Brownsville, told her life story at the Seamen’s Society Black & White Gala before an audience of more than 650 people that included President Bill Clinton.

The Black & White Gala was held on Thursday, Oct. 27 at The Hilton Garden Inn, 1100 South Avenue, Staten Island N.Y. 10314. The Seamen’s Society for Children and Families is the agency that handled Sylvia’s foster placement through its Brownsville office.

The Seamen’s Society currently has more than 200 children in foster placement in Brooklyn.

In a testament to how far she has come young Sylvia stood before the huge assembly and told her story about having been born into severe poverty in Haiti where she could not get an education or even enough to eat. In 2005 she was brought to the U.S. to be cared for by an aunt but, sadly, her family could not continue to support her and so Sylvia entered the foster care system. But since she has been placed with one of Seamen’s Society’s best loved and longest standing foster families, Sylvia has made great strides both socially and academically.

“The [Seamen’s] staff are really friendly and they are always mindful of any concerns we have” said Sylvia in her speech.

During his address, President Clinton asked Sylvia and the other foster children in attendance to stand before the podium and urged everyone in attendance to realize how much these youngsters would be effected by cuts in programs for teens in foster care. He noted that the Black & White Gala would raise $100,000 for the Society, helping the organization blunt a $200,000 cut to its budget. Then he challenged those in the audience to raise another $50,000, saying that he would match it dollar-for-dollar. The challenge brought a standing ovation.

The evening’s honoree, Laura Graham, was recognized as one of the Seamen’s Society’s most dedicated and exemplary foster parents. In recent years, Ms Graham has foster parented six children and currently has charge of two. In addition, she is President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff and is the chief operating officer of the William J. Clinton Foundation. Graham saluted other foster parents, saying they are “critical to ensuring that these children are getting the support they need and deserve.”

Of her own foster children, she said, “I’m grateful to play a small role in their lives at a difficult time.”

“We are all very humbled that President Clinton favored us with his company” said Nancy Vomero, the Seamen’s Society’s president and CEO. “Yet I’m not surprised that he would choose to help us recognize Laura’s work. Not many people know that Laura has worked at the White House or about the important humanitarian work that she does for the Clinton Foundation in places like Haiti or New Orleans, but fewer still know about her devotion to some of our most vulnerable children and families right here in New York. For all that she does, both globally and locally, she deserves the highest praise.”

The Seamen’s Society for Children and Families is celebrating its 165th anniversary making it the oldest charitable organization on Staten Island and one of the oldest in New York City. Founded in 1846 as the Society for the Relief of Destitute Children of Seamen, it was one of the first organizations in the country to care for abused or abandoned children in foster homes rather than in institutions.

Proceeds from the event will benefit the Seamen’s Society’s programs, which in addition to foster care and adoption services, include: medical and psychological services, preventive services, domestic violence intervention, day care for low income families, food stamp eligibility assistance and scholarship and educational opportunities.

More from Around NYC