The NYPD OPTIONS program, students, staff and alumni of the High School for Law Enforcement and Public Safety held a ribbon-cutting to mark the opening of the school’s new OPTIONS wellness center. The wellness center will help to enhance the personal and professional development of youths through the activities available at this safe and creative space.
Among those on hand to speak about the meaning and impact of this wellness center were High School for Law Enforcement and Public Safety (HSLEAPS) Principal Laura Van Deren, Office of Speaker Adrienne Adams Deputy Chief of Staff and HSLEAPS alumni Tyrell Hankerson, Queens South High Schools Deputy Superintendent Namita Dwarka, New York City Police Foundation Executive Director Greg Roberts, NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Community Affairs Mark Stewart and Police Officer and HSLEAPS alumni Terome Parham.
“Some of our collaborative goals in the wellness center include creating career connected learning, pathways for all students and working with our NYPD power partners to support mental health, student attendance, enrichment and quality mindfulness practices,” Van Deren said. “I thank everyone who is here today for supporting our students, for supporting HSLEAPS and always supporting the NYPD.”
Van Deren credited several individuals and organizations for helping to make this possible. Those she thanked included NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell, Mark Stewart, Greg Roberts, the New York City Police Foundation and the NYPD OPTIONS team.
“Being here today and representing Speaker Adams is a source of pride for me,” Hankerson said. “Being an alumni of this school and seeing how far the school has come and seeing how it has impacted the community is something that cannot be taken away from this district. Our youth needs safe spaces. They need spaces where they can be open and be themselves. Today’s ribbon-cutting is a representation of that. It’s a space where they can thrive. It’s a space where they can be themselves. It’s a space where there is no judgement. It’s a space for them to become the greatest versions of themselves.”
Hankerson also emphasized the importance of the kids benefitting from the space by receiving life skills, career guidance and discuss the challenges they encounter daily. He referred to it as a gateway that will lead to better futures for young people, in large part thanks to its access to training, internships and other experiences that could prepare them for the future.
Various workshops are available within the wellness center. In addition to a virtual reality training lab, other workshops there relate to wellness info and activities, financial wellness, pre-coding lessons and gaming competitions, career and life skills and photography.
In addition to the workshops, there are various outlets for youths to relax. This includes yoga mats, beanbag chairs, a PlayStation 4, a giant Connect Four grid and Jenga blocks.
“In a world filled with countless distractions and challenges, our youth often find themselves at a crossroads, unsure of which path to choose” Parham said. “It is at these crucial moments that our program steps in. By working closely with law enforcement, we provide our youth with a unique opportunity to be engaged with those who have dedicated their lives to upholding justice and ensuring the safety of our community.”
After graduating from HSLEAPS in 2010, Parham became the first alumni member to become an NYPD officer.
According to Stewart, the Police Foundation and NYPD intend to have these centers available across all five boroughs of the city. At the moment, there are centers in Queens, the Bronx and Brooklyn, with plans for Manhattan and Staten Island.
“This center embodies our commitment to a safer and inclusive community,” Stewart said. “Our OPTION program is where the NYPD empowers youth through training opportunities on real life encounters. It focuses on emotional intelligence, de-escalation and sexual awareness. The program focuses on promoting empathy and understanding. It represents a beacon of safety for our youths in South Jamaica.”