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UNICEF joins Ridgewood Y to teach youth about diversity

Photo by Steve Mosco
By Steve Mosco

Children are constantly learning — unfortunately, sometimes they learn to discriminate.

That is why the Ridgewood YMCA, at 69-02 64th St., partnered with UNICEF to bring hands-on learning enrichment programs to Summer Day Camps, aiming to expand the participants’ young horizons and help them understand that diversity is a concept they should embrace.

UNICEF, a global organization founded in 1946 to provide children with relief and promote their rights, teamed up with Ridgewood Y’s summer learning objectives to create a unique four-week program for the Y’s day camp youngsters. The camp’s theme this year, “I Love New York,” celebrates diversity and raises the children’s awareness of the many different people who make the city a special place.

Cortnie McGinnis, the youth and family director at the Y, said programs like the Y’s partnership with UNICEF fosters multiculturalism in the community and on a global level.

“Teaching diversity to children at a young age reinforces the concepts of integrity, respect, responsibility and caring, which are all core values of the YMCA,” she said.

Katia Stefanatou, a UNICEF Global Citizenship Fellow, said building global competency needs to start at a young age.

“It seems that children are taught to discriminate from the moment they are born, so we come in and try to help them see that diversity is part of what makes the world such a great place,” she said.

To help illustrate the connections to different cultures, Stefanatou showed the children slides featuring children from different countries dressed in traditional clothing. She then asked the youngsters to share their own traditions and encouraged them to ask questions.

Stefanatou said the lack of cultural understanding is what can lead to bullying in classrooms and other settings. The UNICEF representative came to the United States from Greece four years ago and she said her experience coming from another country inspired her to help young children recognize and appreciate diversity in themselves and others.

“As a double citizen, I see the inequities in the world and feel a responsibility to help others,” she said. “We are all different in many ways, but we can coexist peacefully.”

Peaceful co-existence is the driving force behind the teachings of the Ridgewood Y, according to volunteers. Jenna Caver, a young volunteer who worked her way up from a counselor in training, said the Y aims to teach the children something new every day — the trick is to make learning fun and not just another school lesson.

“It’s the summertime, so we don’t want them to feel like they never left school,” she said. “We always try to keep things fun and interactive.”

This hands-on approach to learning includes math taught with blocks and English taught with giant, cut-out letters. This type of academic enrichment helps children grow creatively and artistically while fostering imagination and originality, according to volunteers.

It also challenges the youngsters to interact with one another and this, according to Caver, helps build the appreciation for diversity.

“Many programs here teach kids about different cultures and how we aren’t all that different from one another,” she said. “I’m constantly learning from the children, too. They teach me new things as I teach them.”

To learn more about the Ridgewood Y, visit ymcanyc.org/ridgewood or call 212-912-2180. Also, check out teachunicef.org for UNICEF’s educational programs.

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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