BY JANICE LLANES FABRY
Don Bosco Community Center
Since its inception 95 years ago, Don Bosco Community Center has played a significant role in meeting the needs of immigrant groups settling in Port Chester. The nonprofit organization’s mission has always been to enable all people to realize their fullest potential as productive, responsible, and caring citizens.
“We foster our mission by advancing economic development through education and by addressing food insecurity,” noted Executive Director Jerry Rodriguez. “Don Bosco is a truly beautiful ecosystem that has been created through time. There’s a lot of legacy here.”
To address food deficiencies and basic human needs, the Center runs a Soup Kitchen Monday through Friday, serving an average of 400 hot lunches every week. In addition, a food pantry provides 80-90 families per week with nutritious groceries on Tuesdays and Saturdays, along with an Open Closet that provides clients with clothing.
During the last five years, Don Bosco has expanded its focus on education. An After Schools Enrichment Program marries education and food insecurity by ensuring students get the attention they need to be successful at school as well as snacks and a hot meal. Participants have access to a computer lab, STEAM classes in a Makerspace, a dance studio, and a lounge where they can gather with their peers.
Rodriguez remarked, “We try to spark their curiosity with 3D design, coding, robotics, creative writing, clay art, painting, and photography.”
Counselors, many of whom partook in the program as kids, provide 85 second through eighth graders with academic support every weekday by helping them with homework and offering literacy tutoring. On Saturdays, 50 kindergarteners through third graders benefit from this initiative as well.
Don Bosco’s Early Childhood Bilingual Program prepares 3- and 4-year-old Hispanic children with early childhood development. They practice listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills in both Spanish and English. In addition to school readiness, parents benefit from workshops as well.
“We foster the social, emotional, and cognitive development of these children,” said Rodriguez, who immigrated from El Salvador in 2009 and refers to his role here as a vocation. “We are also able to address learning issues early by providing a speech pathologist for kids with speech delay, for example, so they don’t fall behind.”
For high school students, the Center offers a Scholars Program, headed by Michael Keating, that harnesses their potential and, as Rodriguez noted, “propels them to the next step.” Mentors guide juniors through every step of the college admission process, from compiling lists of college choices and college essays to financial aid applications.
“Higher education is an equalizer that can change the trajectory of a young person’s life and this program promotes education equity,” explainedCarol Pouchie, a Rye resident and one of many mentors. “These kids have so much potential, but families often don’t know how to navigate the complex American college application process.”
Don Bosco’s Dreams gala and annual fundraiser last month celebrated these students, along with outstanding individuals who make the mission of the center a reality with their spirit of volunteerism, generosity, and stewardship to the local community.
About the resources required to sustain the Center, Rodriguez noted, “We are grateful to our parish church for allowing us to utilize their space and to our private donors, who are responsible for funding a vast majority of our programs.”
He added, “Every single person who donates is truly a philanthropist. I’ve only encountered good stewards here who dedicate their time, talent, and treasure. This place wouldn’t survive without them.”