Google+ Badge

Friday, October 25, 2013

Mrs. Lo has a Dream for Newburgh ...

“MOMMY, DO WE LIVE IN THE CITY OF NEWBURGH?” No, we live in the Town of Newburgh, I answered my 9 yo, earlier this week. Why do you ask? “Somebody at school said to stay out of the City of Newburgh,” he replied with wide eyed innocence.Right. Well, your school is located in the City of Newburgh, I told him. “Do we go to the City of Newburgh a lot?,” he asked. Yes, we do. You go to school in the City. You go to the Newburgh Rowing Club at least 4 days a week, that’s in the City of Newburgh. We go to church in the City of Newburgh. We swim at Delano Hitch Pool in the City of Newburgh. Christian plays football in the City of Newburgh. We eat at Costigliolos and Capri in the City. And I am always driving kids home and picking them up for crew in the City of Newburgh.

“Is the City of Newburgh bad?” he asked. No, the City of Newburgh is not bad, I answered carefully. But when Mommy lived in New York City, we were always told to be careful when we walked the streets, to always have your guard up. And that is true in all cities, including Newburgh. “So what do you think I should be for Halloween?” he asked, and just like that the teachable moment was over.

The City of Newburgh might have a renaissance, it might not. I do not know the answer on that one. I do know one thing. Both my kids are way street savvier than I was when I was, having grown up in rural Fishkill and having moved to NYU at the age of 17. You could pretty much drop Christian in any urban area for 24 hours and he would survive. Possibly even thrive. Michael, well, you could leave him at Dylan’s Candy Bar or FAO Schwartz with money and it would be a long time before he’d call home.

There was one question Michael asked me which really nailed the entire issue: “Why would we go to the City of Newburgh?” We go there a lot, but we don’t really spend money there, other than to eat. The shopping isn’t there.

So many people, who couldn’t find the Activity Center without GPS, have dreams or visions for the City of Newburgh. Well, Mrs. Lo is a dreamer. So here’s my Dream for the City of Newburgh.

I dream of a Plaza Mayor (pronounced Plah-thah-My-Or) for the City of Newburgh. I lived for almost a year in Salamanca, Spain, during NYU. And I traveled all over Spain, as well as Italy, France, Portugal, and other neighboring countries. In Spain, all life revolves around a central “plaza.” The Plaza Mayor is not only the physical heart of the ancient Salamanca, which has the second oldest university in Europe, it is the heartbeat as well. Besides being ancient (try mideaval), the Plaza Mayor is the place to be. It is a super large, stone paved plaza, in the shape of a square. It is surrounded on all sides by small shops, restaurants, the post office, police station, barber. Basically, if you want to do or buy anything, you come to the plaza. There are tables and chairs all over the plaza. You can buy a cup of coffee and the paper and sit there all day if you want. Well, not all day, at some point, you have to go home and take your siesta. Then when you wake up, Ay, Muchacha, the plaza is hopping! It is lit up all over. There is always free entertainment, dancers, guitarists, sometimes plays and skits. Above the Shops and restaurants and government offices are apartments, artists lofts and studios. And in the center of it all is a beautiful, giant fountain.

I cannot tell you how much I savored every moment I spent in Salamanca’s beautiful Plaza Mayor, speaking Spanish with other students, and the old bird man. It was safe. Much safer than NYC. I could never, at age 19, sit around and talk to strangers in Washington Square in NYC, that was just asking for trouble.

Don’t worry, Mrs. Lo isn’t running for office, just sharing a Dream, that’s allowed. I’m sure anyone reading this would say, oh boy, that could never be done. But let me tell you a little story about how the Student Ambassador program of the Newburgh Rowing Club was started.

When I first came down to the rowing club almost 3 years ago, I said to Big Coach, this is a great program you have, and I love that you’re right in the City of Newburgh. But the program doesn’t really reflect the diverse population of the City of Newburgh. “Mrs. Lo,” said Big Coach. “I have been a public school teacher for 33 years. I have taken these ergometers (indoor rowing machines) into Newburgh city schools so many times and taught children to row, but the kids will never come out and take the US Rowing Swim test (required to row on open water), and they don’t know how to swim.”

Well, you’re a swim coach, I said, teach them. “Mrs. Lo,” said Coach, “that would be a dream come true but we don’t have that kind of money.” How much are we talking? “To rent a pool and equipment, to hire extra coaches and get the equipment for rowing, we’re talking $10,000.00,” he said. If I can get a grant for $10,000.00, will you volunteer your time, I said? “Of course,” he said, “but that’s a very big dream and I don’t see it happening.” I wrote the grant application to the Hudson River Improvement Fund. I did not get the $10,000.00. I got $11,000.00. And we started the Student Ambassador Program. That was 2011. In 2012, we got another $10,000.00 from the DEC and $12,500.00 from the HRIF. I am now applying for the grant for 2013, it’s due soon. Since then, with the help of our our rowers, we have taught over 72 children to swim. Of those, 60 have passed the US Rowing Swim Test. We have taught all of them to row. Our Nora Cronin girls are now moving up to Competitive Rowing, and some of them are sculling in tomorrow’s meet. Mrs. Lo will be rowing in the “Team Mom Quad” with 3 Student Ambassadors, who are now in high school. We use the Team Mom Quad to build awareness for the sport and to raise money for other charities, like the American Cancer Society.

The spirit of rowing also lives in the City of Newburgh. Yes, Newburgh is the birthplace of rowing, and hundreds of thousands of spectators used to coming here to watching rowing races. It took 22 years to build the Newburgh Rowing Boathouse on the waterfront, and it sits at the Ward Brothers Memorial Park, named after Newburgh rowers and brothers Ellis, Henry, Josh and Gilbert Ward, who raced together as a crew. Their many wins included the 1865 professional four-oared championship of America and a world title. Newspapers from the 1860s and 1870s contained numerous accounts of races rowed by the Ward brothers in Newburgh. All four brothers are in the Rowing Hall of Fame.

The Newburgh Rowing Club carries on that tradition but brings rowing to a wider group of children. We went from about 20 or so kids when Christian first joined to almost 100 right now and more joining every day. See, the spirit of Newburgh Rowing is: go ahead and tell us we can’t do it. We’re just going to hold our heads up and row even harder. We believe in us, and that’s more than enough.

Off to the Head of the Zombie Regatta at the Newburgh Rowing Club. Have a great day, everyone!  Mrs. Lo (Photo of the Plaza Mayor in Sara Sara Salamaca, circa 1985)
 — withJuliana Muyot at Plaza Mayor de Salamanca.