by Lauren Lustgarten
In order for children to believe that high school does not have to be the end of the road, initiative needed to be taken. Nelba Márquez-Greene teamed up with Central Connecticut State University and started to pave the way.
Organized by The Ana Grace Project, Márquez-Greene, a family therapist and a former faculty member at CCSU, founded the project to honor her daughter, Ana, who was killed during the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012.
This past Monday, approximately 400 students from the Consolidated School District of New Britain spent the day at CCSU to get a taste of college. During the event, “Love Wins: Finish the Race,” the Northend, Chamberlain and Smith Schools sent their fifth graders and DiLoreto Magnet School sent their fifth and eighth graders.
“The idea is that these young children will get a taste of college from CCSU students and will leave the campus with the belief that, after high school, there is a world of possibilities awaiting them,” said Márquez-Greene in a press release.
With the help of administrative assistant to the president Courtney McDavid and other CCSU members, the day at CCSU was organized.
“Nelba Márquez-Greene came up with the idea as a way to inspire young, elementary school students to look beyond the end of high school to pursuing a college degree,” said McDavid.
“Motivated in part to commemorate her daughter, Ana Grace, Nelba wanted to use forces of love, community and connection to help make these young people’s lives richer and more fulfilling and to provide them with an opportunity to ‘finish the race’ with a college degree,” McDavid added.
After hearing from a New Britain teacher who believed his young students needed to learn empathy, compassion and kindness and be reminded of life past high school, Márquez-Greene got the idea for “Love Wins: Finish the Race.”
“We are extremely pleased to partner with The Ana Grace Project on this critical initiative,” said CCSU President, Dr. Zelma Toro in a press release. “We couldn’t be more supportive of its mission to promote love and build community and connection for every child and to impart the message that education is the path to a successful future.”
375 volunteers on campus helped make the event possible. The day started with the CCSU Radio Station playing music and greeting the students as they got off the buses and headed into Welte for a welcome reception where Toro along with Mayor Erin Stewart and the superintendent spoke.
Engineering students demonstrated the properties of liquid nitrogen and used it to make ice cream. Later, with the help of the athletic department, 250 CCSU student athletes and 75 coaches escorted the students to the athletic fields where the students engaged in a variety of field activities including football, soccer, lacrosse, baseball and more.
Connecticut National Guard volunteers even helped out and ran a hydration station on the field for the students.
“Our athletics program is honored to play a role in the ‘Finish the Race’ activities. Consistent with the CCSU mission, we place great emphasis on community engagement as a core component of the overall educational experience of our student athletes,” said athletic director Paul Schlickmann.
Working with Márquez-Greene and ‘Love Wins: Finish the Race’ has been humbling and inspirational, explained Schlickmann.
“Nelba’s strength and vision to create such a transformative program from an unspeakable tragedy is remarkable,” said Schlickmann. “The motivation for our student athletes is to serve as positive role models and contribute to the theme of the movement; to expose and excite the youth of our city to the possibility and value of a college education. In doing so, they will hopefully expose them to some athletic activities that can be integral to their continued physical and personal development and self-esteem.”
On top of all that the students got to experience, they were also given a new pair of athletic shoes and a backpack stuffed with a sports drink, a water bottle and an Ana Grace Project wristband.
Fleet Feet of West Hartford not only donated the shoes, but the staff also visited the schools last month and measured each child for their correct shoe sizes.
The event was made possible by sponsorships by Farmington Bank and additional support from the CCSU Alumni Association, Achieve Financial Credit Union, Barnes & Noble, Pratt & Whitney, Coca Cola and several other private donors.
This was the second year CCSU has hosted the event, however last year only Chamberlain came to campus.
“We look forward to this being an annual event,” said McDavid. “Planning this event was definitely a team effort.”