Students organize fundraiser for COCOA House

Kids play a game of Apples to Apples at COCOA House. The tutoring and mentoring program, which is run by Union students, also aims to teach Hamilton Hill children basic and necessary life skills, like how to read. (Courtesy of Ly Nguyen).

Union students are currently holding a fundraiser for the Children of Our Community Open to Achievement, or COCOA, House.

Since the house runs on donations, every year the fundraising campaign is launched to prevent the house from shutting down.

Elizabeth Dalton ’17, an American Studies major and co-president of the COCOA house, said that the house depends on funds to pay for electricity and gas bills and to provide full meals for 12 children, which can be “their only meal during the day,” said Dalton.

This year, the campaign’s volunteers will be adding posters in the napkin dispensers in every dining hall on campus. There is also a website where donors can contribute to the cause online.

“We aim for $5,000. In the last two weeks we have raised $3,000,” Dalton stated.

Through the COCOA House website, more friends, family and faculty members have the opportunity to get involved. Dalton noted that Professor Witsoe in the Department of Anthropology at Union has been heavily engaged in the cause. Furthermore, one alumnus donated $1,000.

COCOA House is a place where Union students provide tutoring services to primary school and middle school (3rd to 7th grade) students from Hamilton Hill, a neighborhood in Schenectady. The goal of COCOA house is to keep these children away from the streets.

In running the house, volunteers say the greatest obstacle lies in motivating some of the children to study, because they do not receive regular encouragement in their schools. The main reason for this can be attributed to Hamilton’s long history of high poverty rate, which usually correlates with a low education level.

In 1996, a Union alumnus realized that three-quarters of the children in her religion class could not read. She opened the COCOA house to assist illiterate children, and it is now run by Union students.

Dalton added that in addition to assisting children with their homework assignments, the house keeps a checklist of basic skills that these children should master. These skills include reading, learning geographic names and memorizing their multiplication tables, to name a few. These skills are necessary for the students’ activities at COCOA house.

To raise the motivation of the limited number of children, the co-presidents of COCOA House organize social activities during the lunch hour in the house. Dalton brought one of the Union engineering clubs, which involved the children in hands-on activities. These personal interactions raised the children’s interest in engineering, according to student volunteers.

Next week, Dalton is planning on organizing a banquet at Union for the children to expose them to life on a college campus. This exposure aims to assist the children in visualizing themselves attending college.

Dalton’s passion and the close bonds she has built with the children through individual interactions ultimately led her to the choice of becoming co-president of the COCOA House. “They expect you to come when they get to know you after a few weeks,” said Dalton.

“I love COCOA House so much. I stay and help out, because I believe that the kids are achieving academic success,” she concluded.

Union volunteers serve as mentors and tutors. They come every Tuesday and Thursday at 2:15 p.m. or 3:45 p.m. with the Union shuttle running from Old Chapel. If you would like to volunteer, contact Elizabeth Dalton.


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