Navy Yard

Harlem middle school students visit Brooklyn Navy Yard to work with nonprofit

May 19, 2016 Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Students from Harlem visited nonprofit Refoundry at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Photo courtesy of Refoundry

On Wednesday, about 30 middle school students from St. Hope Leadership Academy in Harlem trekked to the Brooklyn Navy Yard to visit Refoundry, a new nonprofit that trains formerly incarcerated people to repurpose discarded materials into home furnishings, and incubates participants into their own businesses.  

The students went in order to reconnect with the Refoundry participants who came to visit their school several weeks before, and to see the drill press and band saw they donated to Refoundry.  

Each month, students from St. Hope select an organization through which to learn about social, environmental and others issues that affect their community, as well as how to work toward solutions.  As part of their engagement, they raise money to help support these organizations’ work.  

At Refoundry, students split up by grade to visit different parts of Refoudry’s workshop, where participants spoke about the pieces they make, how Refoundry is helping them achieve their goals and the sometimes hard life lessons they’ve learned.

Eugene Manigo, 64, spoke to the students about the mistakes he made as a young man that led to him spending 30 years in prison.  “I did terrible things to myself, and to other people,” Manigo told his audience, “because I didn’t think there was another path for me.  But I was wrong.  Find inside yourself the thing you want to be — a nurse, a carpenter, a teacher — and work towards that goal.  If you’re true to yourself, you can be whatever you set your mind to be.”

Participant James Eleby Jr., 47, shared a favorite saying with the students: “People who judge you don’t matter, and people who matter don’t judge you.”  

The students participated in Refoundry’s Hand-in-Hand Project. Participants painted each student’s hand and “printed” them on pieces of recycled wood.  The students donated their handprints to a community-wide public art project Refoundry is organizing, but got to take home a smaller piece of recycled wood that they could decorate with their fingerprint.  

Stephanie Fernandez, a teacher at St. Hope who advises the students on organizations to select and on the students’ fundraising efforts, said the trip was a great experience.  “We look forward to coming back to visit Refoundry next year.”