As if a universe unto itself, the New Paltz Youth Program (NPYP) sits calm and coy on the green-grassed property at 220 Main St. With its long, inviting front porch and baby blue-shuttered windows, only some know of the true, noisy vivacity hidden within the house’s walls.
The house was bought by the Town of New Paltz in 1989, when the program was incepted. Very much a college-influenced town, a questionnaire was sent out to middle and high school students asking what they wanted from New Paltz. Their answer? A place of their own.
“Kids need something to do,” said Youth Director of NPYP Jim Tinger. “They get in trouble when they get bored. New Paltz in particular is a college town, and these kids need to feel like they’re important as well.”
Today, NPYP offers a safe and fun environment for New Paltz students between the ages of 11 and 19, with 40 to 70 kids running through the house daily, playing sports or games, doing homework, or simply just hanging out. An after-school and weekend program starting at 2 p.m. every day of the week, NPYP offers a variety of services for these students, from tutoring, mentoring, counseling and field trips to job and community service opportunities.
Assistant director of NPYP Andrew Vlad, ‘10 (sociology), said that NPYP recorded 16,000 tutoring experiences in over 3,000 middle school classrooms last fall alone. Because of Tinger’s close connections with Family of Woodstock and its affiliated groups, NPYP also offers services for students who may be experiencing bad circumstances at home. For 30 to 90 days, students can stay with Family of Rosendale, which provides housing for students in need.
Tinger’s close ties to many parts of the community have also led the program to receiving food donations from places like the New Paltz Bagel Cafe and Frito-Lay, where a previous NPYP intern used to work. Vlad and recreational director Jose Formoso say that NPYP serves around 10,000 kids each year — but the extra food the kids don’t eat gets donated to Family of New Paltz.
The mission of NPYP is to prepare educational, motivational and social opportunities for young New Paltz students, Vlad says. Having worked at NPYP for seven years, Vlad has worked to build trusting relationships with the kids that have come through the program over the years, a facet that all staff members of NPYP aim to achieve.
NPYP is a judgment free zone with a zero tolerance policy for any sort of homophobia, racism, sexism and bullying. This allows the students to be themselves and feel at home, free of any societal pressures they may feel when walking the halls of their middle school or high school.
“There aren’t necessarily any social stigmas here,” Formoso said. “They don’t feel the pressure of society staring at them in their adolescence — especially from the staff.”
Respect is a major asset at NPYP; in fact, it’s the No. 1 rule on their list of everything the kids need to abide by. The program offers every individual an equal opportunity despite significant age differences and interests. Formoso says it’s all about empowering the kids.
“I’ll treat [Vlad] the same way I’ll treat a 12-year-old,” Formoso said. “I may not talk to him the same or use the same language, but the respect is and always will be there. Kids love to feel like they’re being treated equally.”
In recent years, NPYP has made itself more well-known to the community, participating in and volunteering at town events such as the New Paltz Regatta, Taste of New Paltz, Fourth of July fireworks festivities and more. NPYP puts on events specifically for the kids, such as their annual Easter egg hunt on Historic Huguenot Street. Along with these events, the program offers students the opportunity to experience things they might not otherwise: regular trips to the drive-in movie theater and annual trips to Six Flags Great Adventure. The kids get to go for free, but these experiences still come at a price — fundraising events such as car washes help to pay for these excursions, and every student must participate.
Though the program is meant to benefit the kids, NPYP staff often reap the benefits, too. Angela Saccente, a fourth-year psychology major interning at NPYP this semester, is a prime example.
“I recognized that this internship has helped me relieve stress,” she said. “I feel less anxious when I’m there. It’s an overall positive environment. I’ve spent my days just coloring or talking to students, and it’s nice to see that they really do open up to you if you let them.”
Formoso and Vlad agreed with Saccente, saying that the program is a learning opportunity for everyone involved and allows the staff to be keen on the types of issues that kids may be going through nowadays.
“It’s good to have a challenge in life, and this place can be an extreme challenge some days,” Vlad said. “It’s equal parts challenging and rewarding, and sometimes the challenge outweighs the reward, but there are some days where you connect with a kid, and you may make a huge difference in someone’s life.”
This story first appeared in The New Paltz Oracle on May 11, 2017.