It Takes a Village to Raise a Child

For the 15th year in a row the Seamen’s Society for Children and Families will prove the notion that it takes a village to raise a child at its Annual Youth Scholarship dinner on Wednesday, July 11 at 6.30 p.m. at The Vanderbilt at South Beach on Staten Island.

“It takes a village to raise a child” said Nancy Vomero Seamen’s Society’s president and CEO. “It takes everyone in this room, and many more besides, to help our young people achieve their dreams of attending college but just look what can happen when we all work together. I couldn’t be more proud of our scholarship recipients for holding onto their dreams and working so hard to attain them.”

Since the program’s inception in 1998 the scholarship program has attracted supporters from all walks of life and income levels. There are corporate sponsors such as TD Bank’s Charitable Foundation and Con Edison, local organizations like the Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs, families and individuals who have endowed scholarships in the memory of a loved one and, most touchingly, scholarships that are supported by the Brooklyn Foster and Adoptive Parents’ Association (FAPA) and the PS 19 Young Helpers group.

“When I went to the first scholarship dinner and saw how those children’s faces lit-up, when I felt the energy in the room because they knew they were getting the right help to go to college, I knew I had to do something too” explained Joan Arnold, president of the Brooklyn chapter of FAPA. Joan went back to her foster and adoptive parents group and convinced them that they needed to support this scholarship program and support it they have by holding bake sales and pledging their own money every year for 14 years. “I understand what it means to put a child through college” Joan continued. “I wouldn’t have been able to educate my own children without the help and support of scholarship organizations and, especially, my church and so I work to help someone else’s child turn their life around.”

The scholarship recipients are all young adults who have been through the Seamen’s Society’s programs which range from preventive services to the agency’s Preparing Youth for Adulthood (PYA) programs. Eileen Bruno a PYA consultant to the Seamen’s Society explains that the youth in her charge receive help with everything from filling out college and financial aid applications to getting support for buying text books and applying for help from other not-for-profits, such as New Yorkers for Children, which provides underprivileged youth with their own laptops to take to college.

“Really, we do everything on a case-by-case basis” said Eileen. “We make sure that the teens are aware of and properly applying to programs such as the Higher Education Opportunity Program, which helps them with placement and scholarships at private colleges, the CUNY SEEK program, which meets the needs of students who are considered to be economically disadvantaged and academically underprepared and the SUNY EOP program which provides access, academic support and financial aid to students who show promise for succeeding in college but who may not have otherwise been offered admission.

“We help them with dorm shopping, drive them to the DMV to get their licenses and make sure that their benefits are transferred to their colleges so that their room board and meal plans are covered” explained Eileen. “We pretty much handle anything that the parent of a college bound teen would do.”

The PS 19 Young Helpers Group from Staten Island’s West Brighton neighborhood have been raising the annual scholarship for four years. The 4th and 5th Grader’s social action group chose to help out college bound teens because their own parents have so impressed upon them the importance of a college education, according to their staff facilitator and teacher, Jeanne Raleigh.

“You can ask any of the children at the school, kindergarten through 5th Grade, and they will tell you: ‘We don’t get anything out of the work we do to support Seamen’s Society, except that warm fuzzy feeling in our hearts!’” Jeanne said.

Stapleton residents Lee and Lisa Stephens who have each given annual scholarships in memory of their respective grandmothers had this to say about their reasons for contributing:

“Lisa and I grew up in households where our grandmothers, Annie B. Mariner and Margie Ree Stephens, provided unwavering love, support and heartfelt words of encouragement. Although neither attended college, they instilled in their children and grandchildren a strong sense of the importance of education.

“With regular hugs and smiles, both embraced our aspirations and urged us to always do our best. They held fast to their respective dreams that their offspring would improve their lives through hard work and the attainment of knowledge, skills and experience that a good education would afford. “To that end, Lisa and I graduated from Drew University and Morehouse College and then went on to obtain our MBAs from Columbia and Wharton, respectively – in large part due to the inspiration and commitment imparted by our matriarchs.

“Annie B. and Margie Ree also taught us that a strong, nurturing family structure was essential to creating an environment where educational achievement could flourish. We see the same values embodied in Seaman’s Society foster care programs. Many of the foster children and parents that Lisa and I have met over the years lovingly embrace post-secondary education into their family ethos.

“However, the high and escalating cost of advanced education is often an obstacle these families face in achieving those goals. We established the Annie B. Mariner and Margie Ree Stephens scholarships for twofold purpose: First, to help foster families defray some of the financial challenges they confront and, secondly, to honor the love, support and guidance we received from our grandmothers.”

Mark Irving, director of public affairs at Con Edison in Staten Island, which has endowed an on-going scholarship says that: “The Seamen’s Scholarship program dovetails in beautifully with Con Edison’s mission to support education in the areas we serve. We are a New York based company and always will be so it is incumbent upon us to support the educational aspirations of the entire community. New Yorkers will be our future employees and customers; as they thrive so will Con Edison.”

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