RYE Y Members Get Creative for Children’s Language and Literacy

Don Bosco Project 6-24-15 BWhen Rye Y member Stuart Reis visited Don Bosco Community Center last winter, he was impressed by the range of the organization’s activities and the dedication of its staff to the low-income, mostly Latino families they serve. However, it was Don Bosco’s vision for a new Early Childhood Language and Literacy Program that caught his attention. Helping this center become a reality, Reis thought, might be the perfect project for the Rye Y’s Togetherhood program.

On July 8, a group of Togetherhood volunteers, working with local artist Daniel DeNapoli, put the finishing touches on a large, vibrant triptych that will brighten the walls of the Language and Literacy Center when it opens this fall. The project, a collaboration between the Port Chester-based Don Bosco, the Rye YMCA and the Rye Arts Center, involved 25 adults, teens and children who spent a total of three days filling in DeNapoli’s three-panel sketches.

Togetherhood is a national YMCA social responsibility initiative that engages Y members in community service. Since its formation in May 2014, the Rye Y Togetherhood Committee has organized five projects involving 100 members. In addition to Don Bosco, the organizations served include St. Ignatius Middle School (in the South Bronx), The Sharing Shelf, My Sister’s Place and the Rye Nature Center.

Martha Sud, an independent language and literacy specialist working with Don Bosco, explained that the new program has a twofold purpose: to prepare 20 pre-k Latino children with the skills and knowledge required for a successful entrance to kindergarten while providing immigrant families with simple daily practices to boost their children’s school readiness.

“The triptych mural expresses the importance of early childhood education as the stepping-stone for a successful future of minority youth,” Sud commented. “Concurrently, this vivid mural hopes to inspire children and their immigrant families to become engaged in using literacy artifacts during their time at the center.” Stu Reis

Ann Heekin, Executive Director of Don Bosco Community Center observed, “two hundred years ago, our founder St. John Bosco dreamed of a better life for poor youth through access to education. Thanks to community partners like the Rye YMCA and the Rye Arts Center, that dream is very much alive today. We look forward to ongoing collaborations with the Y, the RAC, and others who care deeply, as we do, about transforming the lives of poor youth.”

Once the Togetherhood Committee endorsed the Don Bosco project, the next step was to find an artist and the backing for pay for expenses. The Rye Arts Center, under the leadership of then Executive Director Helen Gates and Senior Director Adam Levi, stepped up immediately. Levi reached out to DeNapoli, a former advertising executive who now teaches at the Arts Center. He also found support from RAC donor Robert Wiener, who made a generous contribution, and from A.I. Friedman, which donated supplies.

“The Rye Arts Center is so proud to have worked with the Rye YMCA and Don Bosco on this project,” Levi remarked. “A core component of our mission is to involve people of all ages and abilities in the arts, and this project exemplifies that goal.”

On June 24, Rye Y Togetherhood volunteers arrived at Don Bosco, ready to add life to the sketches DeNapoli had already made on three 5-foot by 4-foot canvas panels. Titled “Live, Love, Learn,” the triptych was designed to inspire young children to reach for the educational stars. DeNapoli gave little direction, allowing the volunteers to add their own touches to the work. With each session—on June 24, June 27 and July 8—the colors deepened, details emerged and the sections came together in unexpected ways.

When the painting was done, DeNapoli exclaimed “I truly loved every minute of this art assignment! The project took on a life of its own, and working with the many volunteers of all backgrounds made this a unique and exciting synergistic creative experience for all!”

Final Painting 2 For more information about the Togetherhood program or upcoming projects, contact Denise Woodin, the Rye YMCA’s Director of Community Impact and Social Responsibility, at 914-967-6363, ext. 101 or denise@ryeymca.org.