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White Plains Volunteers Sought To Help Students 'SmartStart' In School

Alana Sweeney, president/CEO, United Way of Westchester & Putnam, left, and Alisa Kesten, executive director, Volunteer New York! have joined forces through SmartStart.
Alana Sweeney, president/CEO, United Way of Westchester & Putnam, left, and Alisa Kesten, executive director, Volunteer New York! have joined forces through SmartStart. Photo Credit:

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- United Way of Westchester and Putnam and Volunteer New York! have joined forces to provide guidance to children through SmartStart, an initiative that addresses growing concerns for at-risk youth who are not fully engaged in school.

The program, now in its fifth year, helps children excel in school by providing truancy intervention, academic support, tutoring, mentoring, and after-school programs.

“Mentoring or tutoring a child is one of the best ways to reinvest in your community,” said Alisa Kesten, executive director, Volunteer New York!. “This volunteer initiative is about education today and leaders tomorrow,” added Alana Sweeny, president andchief executive officer of United Way. “Every youth deserves someone who they believe cares, and we couldn’t be more proud to support this initiative.”

In 2013, 59.4 percent of Westchester public school third graders did not meet grade level reading standards, and the total graduation rate was only 83.1 percent. One in five 18-year-olds in Westchester will not graduate with their peers – and this year, SmartStart aims to dramatically improve these statistics.

United Way and Volunteer New York! are looking to recruit 100 new tutors and mentors throughout Westchester and Putnam counties as part of United Way’s national push to recruit one million volunteers across the country. Locally, volunteers are most needed in the high-risk communities of Mount Vernon, Yonkers, Peekskill, and Port Chester.

One of the initiative’s newest partners, Passage to Excellence Corporation, was established in 2008 to provide social, educational, economic and youth development services for children, youth and families in the City of White Plains who live in disadvantaged environments. The organization is currently working with United Way and Volunteer New York! to develop an after-school program targeted to at-risk youth from Winbrook Public Housing. Together, they will be rolling out a nationally known curriculum called Together for Learning.

“It is our hope that the SmartStart program will help each youth progress academically, socially and emotionally to improve skill development, increase confidence, and encourage success in and out of school,” said Frank Williams, White Plains Youth Bureau executive director.

Additional SmartStart partners for the 2014-2015 school year are the Child Care Council of Westchester; The Guidance Center of Westchester; Boys and Girls Club of Northern Westchester; JCY-WCP/Family Service Society of Yonkers; Student Advocacy; Westhab, Inc.; and Westchester Jewish Community Services.

To search for mentoring, tutoring, and reading volunteer opportunities at sites throughout Westchester and Putnam, visit www.uwwp.org/smartstart or www.volunteernewyork.org/mentor. For more information, call United Way at 914-997-6700 or Volunteer New York! at 914-948-4452.

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