Bringing Music & Academic Skills To Kids in the South Bronx

By Rona Horowitz   Photos by Naliah Harris

The Renaissance Education, Music and Sports program began helping inner-city kids in 2001 and continues to expand. The program helps kids learn and build fundamental skills in all areas of life, in an informal educational setting. The program began with 65 kids in one music program and one basketball program. Today, during the school year, the program hosts about 1,200 students a week, said Howard Altarescu, Chairman of the Board and Chappaqua resident.

The organization’s Singing group is called Music with a Message (MusicWAM). Photo by Naliah Harris

In addition to the music and basketball programs, tutoring, and SAT/ACT prep is now being offered. The program also gives students real life information from mentors. The teachers and mentors consist of teens and adults who volunteer their time to these promising students. Lending their time helps instill necessary skills in the kids, and especially helps those who may not get as much attention to these pivotal techniques at home.

Altarescu and his wife Carol, an active volunteer in the program, were hosting a party at their house when Hillary Clinton was running for senator. On the invitation, the guests were not only invited to hear Clinton speak, but also to hear music from students in the Renaissance program. What started as a “come meet the kids,” idea as Carol called it, sparked the initiative of other Chappaqua families to get involved. The Altarescu’s have now made the party an annual event. The students in the program come to Chappaqua and perform for the residents, and the residents get to meet the students on a more personal level.

The center has become more to the Altarescu’s than solely helping these inner city kids: “It has become a process to help ‘bridge the gap’ between these two communities,” Carol said.

“The Chappaqua Nine”
Jessie Nadler, a Chappaqua resident, began getting involved in the math SAT prep program. Nadler recruited eight of her friends, then Horace Greeley attendees, and they each headed to the south Bronx approximately one Saturday a month. They became known as the Chappaqua Nine.

“I met a lot of really great people I wouldn’t be able to have met before hand,” Nadler said. He encourages everyone to get involved, but says the key to a good tutor is finding someone who wants to be there, so the kids being tutored are motivated too. As the program expands and becomes a more formal educational setting, our community’s interest grows.

“We have tremendous appreciation to the parents and the kids for the impact that Chappaqua has had,” Altarescu said. “It is invaluable to have hands on instruction from very bright Horace Greeley High School students.”

After moving to a larger location, the program is flourishing. Younger kids can now participate in a toddler basketball program. Older students can participate in a mobile music program called Music with a Message. These students get to drive around to perform positive music. Another part of the program called Music on Wheels goes into public schools where music programs have been cut and involves them in music. Altarescu says they have been seeing tremendous attendance and focus from the participants.

Another Chappaqua resident, Anne Hasegawa, volunteers her marketing and creative skills to the program. She said there are many different ways our community can contribute and benefit from the experience as well. “They [the students in the program] have a lot of energy and heart, and I just find it all very amazing,” Hasegawa said.

She continued by saying seeing them perform is inspiring especially because they don’t have the same advantages members of our community do. In efforts to continue to bridge the gap between these communities, the program will be having performances around town and in the gazebo, like the performance held on July 21.

Carol Altarescu and Valerie Levine at the late June party at Carol and Howard Altarescu’s home. Carol says she holds an early summer party as a way to express her appreciation to Chappaqua for all of the support given to Renaissance Education, Music and Sports over the past several years as well as introduce more people to the program. Photo by Naliah Harris

The Altarescus say that people making contributions by using their skills to help benefit others is a great thing. The program also always welcomes instruments, books/office supplies, and donations through Renaissance-EMS.org.

Greeley grad and IC intern Rona Horowitz is a Quinnipiac Journalism major, international business minor heading into her Junior year. She enjoys taking pictures, traveling to new places, and being with friends and family.

Naliah Harris is a graduate of the The Renaissance Education, Music and Sports program.

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