A celebration that almost never happened took place inside a basement room at Newburgh’s Center for Hope on Monday evening.
As dozens of people gathered on lower Broadway to march west in a demonstration against police brutality, 10 young people and a handful of law enforcement officials shared an hour filled with kind words and hot food.
It was the culmination of the latest graduating class of the Youth & Police Initiative. Since 2012 the program has sought to be a bridge between youth and police officers, starting with the premise that mutual understanding is the key to a better relationship.
“They present to the officers about their lives; the officers present to them,” said Isabel Rojas, the retired New York City police officer who coordinates the program for NHS Human Service. “It’s kind of like personalizing the relationship.”
Attending the ceremony were Lt. Dan Cameron and Sgt. Aaron Weaver of the Newburgh police department; James Gagliano, who once led the FBI’s mid-Hudson gang task force and now coaches basketball at the Armory Unity Center; and assistant county attorney Tiffany Gagliano.
“I hope you learned that the police really do respect you and they really care about your well-being,” Cameron said.
A funding shortfall almost derailed this most recent class. But a column by Times Herald-Record journalist Tracy Baxter spurred a flurry of donations.
Mary Ellen and Doug Glorie, owners of Glorie Farm Winery in Marlboro, donated $800 after reading the column. The donation was enough to cover each kid graduating on Monday.
“That gave me goose bumps,” Mary Ellen Glorie said of the column. “So when I got to the part that said the program’s in jeopardy, I said no, you can’t take that away.”