Our Children’s FoundationNovember 13, 2012
Our Children’s Foundation opens its doors to 200 children six days a week, welcoming them into a space filled with a spectrum of activities that includes etiquette lessons, African dance, computer classes, musical instrument lessons and floral design. The experience the children find in this hidden West Harlem gem keeps them away from negative influences after school while giving them tools that propel them into bright futures.
Our Children’s Foundation is housed in a former lumberyard on West 125th Street between Amsterdam and Old Broadway. The 36,000-square-foot brick building hosts spacious rooms that are filled with vibrant artwork, offering children and young adults a stimulating place to learn and play.
“Younger siblings [of older students] come,” said Samuel Brown, Our Children’s Foundation Founder and Chief Executive Officer. “It kind of brings the whole family in.”
For 30 years, the foundation has enriched children’s lives, adhering to its mission: “These are our children, and without them there is no tomorrow.” The free, after-school program keeps members engaged until 7 p.m., believing that children are more likely to become the victims of violent crime in the hours after school. The school serves children from all over the city, but 60 to 70 percent come from the Manhattanville area of West Harlem.
A tour of the building reveals unique learning spaces around every corner, including an art room where the resident artist teaches youngsters about shading and light, a music room stocked with a variety of instruments and a floral design classroom that inspired a bouquet for First Lady Michelle Obama when she visited the Foundation.
The children pick a major to study, whether it is cheerleading, Latin dance, graphic arts or learning to play an instrument. Whether or not they pursue their majors in their collegiate studies or in the professional world, the Foundation believes that being able to develop skills has given many of its alumni confidence to go on and become successful in other areas.
In addition to their majors, the children are required to take etiquette and computer classes. They also attend and participate in group discussions and participate in educational and cultural trips, which include college visits. The Foundation brings students of all ages on the college visits — even the 6-year-olds — because Mr. Brown believes that the earlier children are exposed to college dreams, the better.
The Foundation helps its members with homework, and requires them to show their report cards to prove they are in good standing at school, which is necessary for continued enrollment.
“There are always open arms for you,” said Leticia Salazar, 16, who has attended the Foundation for ten years and who is an A student and is thinking of attending Cornell, Columbia and John Hopkins universities. “It’s like family. Any time I have a question there are always people to help.”
Parents are required to become involved in the Foundation’s programs and are sometimes invited to the Foundation to work out family issues during counseling sessions in the weight room, learning fitness techniques from their children all while building a cooperative relationship.
“Think of the foundation as a family, not just a place to go to,” said Elba I. Valentin, Our Children’s Foundation Program Director. “We build mind, body and soul.”