BRISTOL - The Bristol Boys & Girls Club leadership honored several of its outstanding youths at Cambridge Park Thursday and encouraged people to “Reach for the Stars” regardless of where they get their start in life.
Jay Maia, Cambridge Park Unit director with the club, said the “Reach for the Stars” event, which was held for the 18th year this year, is one of the most prestigious programs the club has to offer.
“Recognition is key because it raises kids’ level of self-esteem,” he said. Maia also encouraged parents in attendance to teach their children that education and attendance in school are important.
Maia shared several statistics. He said in the last three years 1.3 million students dropped out of high school and that among them, more than half were black, Hispanic, or multicultural students from low-income areas. However, among those who participate in programs with the Boys & Girls Club, 90 percent of members have an 85 percent or better homework completion rate, 100 percent of teens expect to graduate high school and complete post secondary education, and zero percent within the past five years have been arrested.
Michael Suchopar, president and CEO of the Bristol Boys & Girls Club, told those children who attended the event that there were stars inside all of them. He encouraged them to dream big and help bring those stars out.
Suchopar then introduced Mike Peterson, the keynote speaker for the event. A New Britain native and club alumni, he graduated from the University of Rhode Island with a double bachelors in Education & Child Psychology and earned a Masters degree in Educational Leadership from CCSU. He is also a three- time Connecticut Poetry Grand Slam champion and a six-year member of the CT Poetry Slam Team.
Peterson shared how, after being called a racial slur, he found inspiration in a poetic phrase that he incorporated into his first poem. He stuck with poetry, even when he was teased for it in college while playing football. He shared two poems with the audience, one of which was about overcoming adversity while the other, which he performed with his 7-year-old daughter, was about being a good father and raising his daughter well.
“I owe it all to reaching for the stars,” Peterson said in conclusion. “Find something you’re passionate about and chase it until you become great at it.”
Another inspirational speaker at the event was Tameka Brooks, who grew up in Cambridge Park housing but went on to become a University of Hartford undergraduate and a Quinnipiac University graduate nurse practitioner.
The club honored nine children who were part of its Power Hour program, an educational enhancement program for children 6 to 13 years old where they participate in homework help, mindfulness activities and tutoring. Students were honored based on their school grades, behavior and club and school attendance.
All Star awards were presented to ten students based on their attendance, random acts of kindness and striving for excellence with their academics.
Four residents of the Bristol Housing Authority who will be graduating high school - Tanisheann Gonzalez, Janeliz Gonzalez, Milenis Ortiz and Destiny Vega - were also recognized for their achievement.
Daneirys Rivera was honored as the Youth of the Year.
“I am so proud to see all the kids standing up here,” she said. “Even if you are from the projects, you do what people say you can’t do. You could be from the ’burbs or from the lowest income ever. Follow your dreams, reach for the stars and do the impossible.”
In addition to youths from the Boys & Girls Club programs, the club presented certificates to the Bristol Housing Authority and student mentors from St. Paul High School and Bristol Central High School.
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Power Hour Program Students Honored:
. Jennyletz Arroyo
. Yareliz Rivera
. Agnerick Coreano
. Jenny Valdes
. Nana Valdes
. Luis Rojas
. Jaletzex Arroyo
. Javon Manso
. Jordan Mejia
ALL STAR Award Recipients:
. Jason Santiago
. Anikka Boebel
. Christian (CJ) Boebel
. Angel Colon
. Nelson Riley
. Cheniel Serrano
. Adehledy Vargas
. Dwayne Vargas
. Taina Espinosa
. Pedro Lopez
. Kelvin Malave