For one group of alumni, New Paltz served as the place where they connected. But their relationships took on an entirely new purpose at a community organization just across the Hudson River.
For more than two decades, Youth Mission Outreach (YMO), a nonprofit non-denominational ministry in Poughkeepsie, has served as a haven for thousands of inner city youths through program offerings based on Bible teachings. The organization is largely staffed by New Paltz alumni, some of whom have been involved with the program since their childhoods. Additionally, YMO’s internship program is almost entirely composed of current New Paltz students.
“Their mission statement is ‘Inspiring change through relationships,’” said intern Grace Kobryn ’15 (Communication Studies). “That drew me in, because I’m an interpersonal communication major, who studies relationships.”
Parish Chanel Tolbert ’10 (Childhood Education) ’14g (Literacy/Special Education) started attending the program when she was 6.
“One thing I learned from New Paltz … is that you have to love your kids first, so that you work hard for them,” said Tolbert, an elementary teacher and basketball coach in the Poughkeepsie school district who worked in the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) office as a student. “I also learned that you have to display your love for reading, and show them that reading is important.”
“Because I grew up in it, it’s my heart,” said Terrance Dancey ’06 (English), who was also brought up in the YMO program. “I was one of these kids, so I want to make sure they know there are more things out there than just Poughkeepsie. When I was here, I didn’t know that.”
“The biggest thing we teach them is they’re leaders, and they’re special.”
— La’Ema Vanterpool ’07 (Psychology/Black Studies)
While attending New Paltz, Terrance Dancey was the assistant captain of the men’s basketball team. He also met his wife, Michelle Dancey ’07 (Anthropology), at New Paltz.
“When (the kids) see the same people over and over again, they know that, even if their lives are chaotic, this is at least one thing that’s consistent,” said Michelle Dancey, a former resident assistant in Crispell Hall, who works as a church pastor and a counselor for mentally disabled individuals.
The organization’s most well-attended program, Youth Night, serves 75-125 kids (ages 5-18) each Friday. Attendees enjoy an open gym with basketball and dancing; group games; and free dinner with food donated by the community. Each Youth Night ends with “an encouraging message of hope that they can do great things,” said Arlene Dyer ’05 (Elementary Education) ’09g (Special Education), YMO’s intern and volunteer coordinator, who works as a special education teacher in Poughkeepsie.
Another component of Youth Night is the Kids’ Corner, where select children earn a few dollars a week to run a refreshment stand in the gym (which is deposited into savings accounts that YMO opens for them).
“They’re learning how to be entrepreneurs – how to manage money and serve customers,” said La’Ema Vanterpool ’07 (Psychology/Black Studies). “The biggest thing we teach them is they’re leaders, and they’re special.”
Vanterpool, who grew up in Queens, N.Y., came to New Paltz because “it wasn’t too far from home.”
“It’s a beautiful campus, and the community is very friendly,” said Vanterpool, who also worked as a resident assistant in Crispell with Michelle Dancey and Dyer, as well as in the EOP office and Martin Luther King Center. She became involved with YMO in 2006, when Michelle Dancey asked her to come teach the kids to dance.
“I was one of these kids, so I want to make sure they know
there are more things out there than just Poughkeepsie.”
— Terrance Dancey ’06 (English)
Vanterpool recalled EOP Assistant Director Rita Celariste ’89 (Communication Studies) ’97g (Humanistic-Multicultural Education) and psychology Professor Glenn Geher as two of her biggest influences at New Paltz.
“(Celariste) came into my life at a very important time, when I needed support. She taught me about leadership,” she said. “(Geher) allowed us to really study, take it in slowly, and not rush anything. He really helped me out.”
Though they’re no longer at New Paltz and have moved on to a variety of professional positions in the community, YMO is the glue that holds this cohort together – and it’s a labor of love for every one of them.
“The kids do more for me than what I can do for them,” said Tolbert. “When I enter the room, joy just overwhelms me.”
In addition to those interviewed and/or photographed for this story, other New Paltz alumni working at YMO include Alyce Snead ’05 (Sociology) and Nancy Desole ’00g (Special Education).