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White Plains Teens Help Keep Reading Buddies Program Alive

White Plains Mayor Thomas Roach congratulates Courtney DeLong (left) and her friend Laura Pollock (right), who were honored for their donation to Reading Buddies, a JCY Westchester Community Partners program.
White Plains Mayor Thomas Roach congratulates Courtney DeLong (left) and her friend Laura Pollock (right), who were honored for their donation to Reading Buddies, a JCY Westchester Community Partners program. Photo Credit: Brian Donnelly

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. – A pair of White Plains teens were honored Monday at the White Plains school board meeting for donating their bat mitzvah money to help sustain an after-school reading program that had lost its funding and was in danger of being discontinued at White Plains elementary schools.

Courtney DeLong and her friend Laura Pollock were mentors for Reading Buddies, a JCY Westchester Community Partners program that pairs college and high school-age mentors with elementary school children once a week to work on homework, literacy and math.

With the help of the White Plains Youth Bureau’s 21st Century grant, White Plains schools partnered with JCY to bring the program to White Plains. However, the bureau’s grant ran out this past year.

Janice Lubin Kirschner, executive director of JCY, told the Reading Buddies mentors that the program has lost its funding as a result. DeLong, who had been volunteering as part of her bat mitzvah project, wanted to help. She offered to donate her bat mitzvah money and then emailed friends asking them to call and write letters to their local representatives to ask for more funding.

Kirschner then got a second call. Pollock also offered to donate her bat mitzvah money.

“I was dumbfounded,” Kirschner said. “Not because she was offering us the money, but because a student of the age of 13 would think to use her money in such an unselfish and giving way.”

The two students' generosity galvanized the White Plains School District to more than match the donation to cover the remaining costs, said Marla Hurban, director of intergenerational programs at JCY. The district then decided to expand the program to all five schools in the district. Each site costs about $10,000 to run, Hurban said.

“I think its an amazing story that shows there is hope left in this world,” Hurban said.

Kirschner presented the two students with plaques that said, "All those who faithfully apply themselves with the needs of the community will be blessed and rewarded."

The Reading Buddies program is expected to serve about 80 students this year with about 70 volunteers.

"These students understand giving, they understand charity, they are exceptional role models for us," Kirschner said. "If they represent the future, we are in good hands."

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