Since a group of Somers educators banded together in 2003 to start Good for Kids, the not-for-profit has accomplished the seemingly impossible in the Costa Rican refugee camp of LaCarpio.
Working with a local partner named ReNuevos, the all-volunteer Good for Kids has built a two-story addition to an education facility; funded the Somers Vocational Center two-year woodworking training program for selected teenage boys; provided eye care and other medical supplies to children; furnished children with footwear; launched a summer camp; and built an access road.
Local organizations also offer support to the efforts of Good for Kids, including the Somers Lion's Club and the Stephanie Crispinelli Humanitarian Fund. The STAT club, under Harris' direction, works closely with group.
The work of Good for Kids helps some of the 35,000 people living in the 1.5-square-mile LaCarpio, which formed in 1994 when a few homeless families settled in the area, according to Good for Kids.
The numbers can be daunting, but Good for Kids' accomplishments offer light in a bleak story. The organization's co-founders, Dr. Joanne Marien, Somers' former Schools Superintendent, and Anne Harris, the current Somers High School orchestra director and Students Taking Action Today (STAT) advisor, have drawn on their education backgrounds to fulfill the mission of the organization: to raise the awareness of today's youth about the less fortunate and inspire them to action, and to improve the lives of children in LaCarpio and the surrounding areas that are served by ReNuevos by creating educational opportunities.
Among the programs started by Good for Kids is the Hanna Scholars Program, named for Hanna Monte, a Somers resident and dedicated Good for Kids volunteer who died in 2011 after a year-long battle with cancer at the age of 20. The program funds the cost of uniforms and textbooks required to complete their education. This year marked the graduation of the first four girls to complete the Hanna Scholars Program, all of whom are now pursuing higher education outside of LaCarpio.
Just this past July, a group of 15 volunteers traveled to LaCarpio to distribute thousands of TOMS shoes for the second year in a row. Next up is the annual fund-raiser Sept. 14. Patch caught up with Dr. Joanne Marien, a Katonah resident and now a Manhattanville professor and education consultant, to find out about what inspired the formation of Good for Kids and their good work.
Patch: What inspired the start of Good for Kids?
Dr. Joanne Marien: Several years ago, Anne and I were among a small team who happened upon LaCarpio as part of a volunteer trip. When we each returned home and brought back the story of the forgotten children of LaCarpio to the students and staff in Somers, many expressed interest in doing whatever they could to help out.
P: How does your education background inform what you do with Good for Kids?
JM: Those who are involved in GFK come from the belief that everyone -- and especially those who are fortunate enough to live as affluently as we do -- have a responsibility to help those who are less fortunate, at home or abroad. At Good For Kids, our chosen focus has been upon supporting the education and well being of the young people of LaCarpio. Founded by educators, GFK is also committed to inspiring and empowering local young people as social activists. In fact, much of what GFK has been able to accomplish has been as a result of donations from youth-led fund-raising; additionally, many of our on-site volunteers are young adults.
P: What have you learned since starting Good for Kids?
JM: That there are no limits to what can be accomplished when people of good will come together for a good cause.
P: Has anything surprised you during your Good for Kids work?
JM: Since I entered this project with great faith in the goodness of others, GFK's accomplishments have been less surprising than heartening. It's been especially wonderful to see the responses and commitment of local young people, especially members of the Somers High School STAT Club and Peer Leaders--they have contributed greatly to our efforts.
P: Are you working with any other Somers-based not-for-profits?
JM: We are most grateful for the generous support we have received from the Stephanie Crispinelli Humanitarian Fund. In fact, this July we were delighted to have Stephanie's mother, Lin, as well as her aunt and grandmother as part of our volunteer team that traveled to LaCarpio to for the TOMS shoes distribution.
P: Tell us about the TOMS initiative.
JM: For the past two years, our mission trips have focused on the distribution of several thousand pairs of TOMS shoes to children in LaCarpio and surrounding areas. This year, our team included 15 volunteers ranging in age from 18 to 77 years old.
P: How will this year's fund-raiser help the children of LaCarpio?
JM: Much of what we do focuses on supporting the education of young women, though ninth grade, at the Refuge for Girls. This year, we hope to be able to provide computer access as part of that program. During our last trip, we were delighted to have attended the first-ever graduation of a small group of girls, supported by the Hanna Scholars program who completed ninth grade and are now eligible to leave LaCarpio to attend high school. In addition to continuing to support our ongoing programs, for the first time this year, we are extending the Hanna Scholars program to fund the education of these young women.
Good for Kids will host its annual fund-raiser Sept. 14, 2012 at 7 p.m. The event will take place at the Fellowship Hall on the campus of St. Matthews Church in Bedford on Rte. 22. Various wines and samplings of gourmet-quality 'tapas' prepared by local resident Elaine Timmons and SHS teacher Jean Schult will be served. Register online at goodforkids.org.
Let Patch save you time. Get great local stories delivered right to your inbox or smartphone everyday with our free newsletter. Simple, fast sign-up here.