by Lauren Lustgarten
The beginning of a mission to prove to children that a college degree is worth it and high school does not have to be the end was a success.
On April 17 at Central Connecticut State University, 400 students from the Consolidated School District of New Britain came to campus to get a taste of college. The event, “Love Wins: Finish the Race,” was organized by administrative assistant to the president Courtney McDavid in conjunction with Nelba Márquez-Greene and The Ana Grace Project.
Márquez-Greene, a former CCSU faculty member, founded The Ana Grace project in honor of her daughter, Ana, who was killed during the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012.
“Everything went so well. We were a little concerned with how we were going to handle going from the 80 kids that we had on campus last year to 400 kids this year,” said McDavid. “We also had eighth graders this year, while last year we only had fifth graders, so I was curious to see how it would work out because they were older, but they ended up having just as much fun as the fifth graders.”
The event has been in the works since September when they had their first planning committee meeting.
“A planning committee was something new this year. It was very helpful because it brought a lot of new ideas to this years event,” said McDavid.
There are about 20 people on the planning committee, which consists of a wide variety of people, including community members, administrators, faculty and administration.
“Planning committee member, Tina Rivera from the Information Technology Department, had a great idea to give these cards to each of the students. So, each of the students got a lanyard with a card in it that had their picture and their name and an inspirational message on the back,” said McDavid. “That is just one example of the ideas that were shared and how we were all able to work together as a team. It was really a team effort and we couldn’t have done it without all of the volunteers.”
They were made aware of a student from Chamberlain who was in a wheelchair, so Physical Education and Human Performance Chair Kimberly Kostelis worked with some of the members and students from the department and had everything planned out for the student so he would not feel excluded.
“In every picture I saw of the student, he was all smiles, so I was happy that it all worked out and really all the kids had such an amazing time,” said McDavid. “I’ve been hearing so many stories from people who had little things that stuck out throughout the day to them and I really think that not only did the children enjoy the day, but CCSU students and members who volunteered also had an amazing time.”
In addition to the planning committee, the presence of a small fundraising committee also made a significant difference.
“We started fundraising in January and went into full-drive in late February, early March,” said McDavid. “We ended up raising over $50,000 and it was announced at the event that we raised enough to create an endowed scholarship. We now have the Ana Grace Marquez-Greene Endowed Scholarship, which will be for a New Britain student.”
McDavid says they are going to work to increase funds so they can continue to make the event successful in the future. McDavid noted that much of this would not be possible without the help and generous donations from the owner of Fleet Feet in West Hartford, Stephanie Blozy.
“Fleet Feet is amazing. They went out into the schools and measured the children’s feet. They provided all the students with their own new pair of athletic shoes. She was here the day of the event with tons of other sizes and she set up a whole station,” said McDavid. “She also provided shoes for all the teachers as well and I think they felt really excited about that. We’re extremely lucky to be working with Stephanie.”
As McDavid hopes to make this an annual event at CCSU, discussion of plans for next year have already begun. They hope to include more schools in the event. After the event ended, the superintendent of New Britain schools said that next year, she hopes CCSU will be able to host about 700 students.
The four schools that attended this year, Chamberlain, Northend, Smith and DiLoreto, all have the “Love Wins” curriculum and that is how they were selected.
There will be a wrap-up meeting for the planning committee this week to discuss how the day went and things to change and add to the event in the years to come. At the meeting, McDavid hopes to identify dates for next year. Come the fall semester, planning will start up again.
“It went really well and I think anyone that you talk to on campus would agree,” said McDavid. “People were so excited about it and you could tell the children really appreciated it.”