When Helena Rodriguez heard that the Yorktown Boys and Girls Club was losing funding in June of 2009, her first reaction was relief that her own two teenagers had graduated from high school and wouldn't be needing the club much more. But then her daughter, Samantha, got in the act. "She told me she had benefited so much from the club that other kids deserved to be able to go there in the future," says Rodriguez. "She convinced me it was something the community needed and to get involved."
Involvement is an understatement when describing what Rodriguez did over the next two years. She and several others created an organization, the Yorktown Teen Center, Inc ., to provide teenagers with a safe place to congregate after school and on weekends. By August of 2009 they'd filed the paperwork to become a 501.c.3 non-profit, and until December they lived up to that description. "We had no income," said Rodriguez. "We depended on volunteers and the town took care of the liability insurance."
In a scene straight out of "It's A Wonderful Life," Rodriguez and the center's treasurer each put a dollar in the kitty. "We hoped they'd multiply," she jokes. A grant from the Justin Veatch Fund, a local philanthropic group, helped sustain operations, and soon kids began flocking to the center, drawn by events like open mike nights.
A first-year film festival, which has since evolved to include art, photography and poetry, was another hit. "We survived the first year, which was our goal," said Rodriguez.
The group held a fundraiser early in 2010 with Rich Cerrone, a Yorktown grad and former PR director for the New York Yankees. When Cerrone came to speak he felt that if the physical state of the center was improved it would be more inviting to teens. The Yorktown Lions and the Jack DeVito Foundation provided the necessary funding to purchase the materials, and local contractors donated their labor, completely renovating the facility over the course of two short weeks.
"We've come a very long way in a very short time," said Rodriguez, but she's not satisfied. "I want to be able to raise $100,000 so we can hire staff and be open more than Wednesday through Saturday."
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