HARLEM, NY -- Sarah is going through a series of stretches as she prepares to help instruct a karate class at the Harlem Y. She is pursuing her third-degree black belt. As she looks around the familiar surroundings, she lets her mind wander back to running through the doors as a kid eager to get to an activity. The Harlem Y has long been part of Sarah's life and she continues to give back, thankful for the opportunities she has received - such as winning the Harlem YMCA's Carrie Terrell Award for Youth Achievement. Sarah completed her Bachelors degree in Communications from Villanova University, secured an internship with Coca-Cola and was hired as a full-time employee in 2006. In addition to volunteering with the Harlem Y Karate Dojo, she volunteers with the International YMCA's Global Teens program.
John is a Financial Analyst for the Pepsi-Cola Company. In 1980 he was a recipient of the Black Achievers in Industry Award, developed by the Harlem YMCA in 1971 to recognize the accomplishments of African-American executives who provide outstanding service to their organizations and communities as well as those who provide mentoring programs, scholarships and other opportunities for youth and teens of the Harlem Community. Today, he develops forecasts that help the company make the critical decisions necessary to keep it profitable.
Kyla, age 10, is focusing intently on her latest creation. She is one of a dozen children in this classroom on East 151st Street taking part in an after-school program run by the Harlem Y. She wants to be a fashion designer when she grows up and this is where the dream is taking root.
The Harlem YMCA can trace its history to 1867, although it did not become part of the YMCA organization until 1901; over the years, it has been a backdrop for the unfolding of African-American history. Names such as Roy Campanella, George Washington Carver, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Adam Clayton Powell are part of its rich history, as well as creative legends such as Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Gordon Parks and Jacob Lawrence.
But the magic of the Harlem YMCA isn't in browning photos in dusty albums or names from a 5th-grade history book - it is in the fact that the organization is as relevant today as it was then as a unique resource for providing young people with the support and experiences they need to become healthy, caring and self-reliant adults. The path to success is now well trod and the connection between young people entering the Y for the first time and the successful group of alumni who have benefited from training, mentorship, scholarships, internships and loving support is long and strong.
"We are proud of the partnerships we've been able to build. We know that companies who support the Harlem Y are able to see positive results from their investments," says Tiffeny Forrest, executive director of the Harlem Y.
And nowhere is that success more apparent than the Black Achievers in Industry (BAI) program that will be hosting its 41st Annual National Salute to Black Achievers in Industry Awards dinner on March 17th. Through Black Achievers in Industry, the Harlem Y partners with corporations, local businesses and generous individuals to provide college scholarships, a summer day camp, after-school enrichment programs and much more to deserving children in the Harlem Community. The annual dinner brings together more than 800 individuals ranging from corporate representatives to honorees to young people benefiting from the evening. This year's event will be emceed by WNBC 4 New York news anchor and reporter DeMarco Morgan and the keynote speaker will be Dr. Michael L. Lomax, president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund (UNCF). Dr. Doris Hicks, principal and CEO of the MLK Charter School for Science and Technology in New Orleans, will be the recipient of the prestigious Leo B. Marsh Award, which is presented to individuals who live the vision of the creator of the program. The Deloitte Corporate Community Award, presented to organizations for outstanding community service, will be awarded to Target.
Last year, through this program, the Harlem Y was able to award over 50 scholarships. In addition to the scholarships, community youth are mentored and thereby gain exposure to opportunities that exist for them if they become prepared like their mentors before them.
"The model we use is a circle," says Forrest. "It is complete and it never ends. We help develop young people; they go to college, begin work and give back. I love it!"
Sustainability is the watchword of our era. Proponents argue that how we prepare our young people will affect everything in our future. The Harlem Y recognizes this fact and is committed to giving young people a strong sense of purpose and responsibility. The success being achieved by the Harlem Y should become a model for achieving success throughout our country.