Hagerstown YMCA Achievers Banquet celebrates the program and its students

April 13, 2013|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI |
  • The Achiever program honored Octavia Harris, director of human services at Hagerstown Volvo Group Truck Operations, and Brenda Thiam, an autism specialist with Washington County Public Schools.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

Twice a month, a group of 29 minority students in grades six through 12 meets at the Hagerstown YMCA for support and encouragement to achieve education and career goals.

Through interest-related cluster groups, featured speakers and field trips, the young people learn to make “wise decisions,” Deborah Phillips said.

Phillips, Achiever program director for the Hagerstown YMCA, said last year, all four of the program’s graduating seniors went on to college.

“We track our students and keep in touch with their families,” she said. “Overall, they become successful.”

On Saturday evening, more than 130 people gathered at Hager Hall Conference and Event Center to celebrate the program and its students at the annual Hagerstown YMCA Achievers Banquet.

Among the youth achievers was Aaron McFarland, 17, of Hagerstown. McFarland, a senior at South Hagerstown High School, said he has participated in the program for six years.

“It gives me opportunities I wouldn’t otherwise have had, takes me places I probably wouldn’t have gone,” he said.

Field trips over the years have included destinations such as the Pentagon and the White House. As a member of the business cluster, McFarland said he visited Citicorp in Hagerstown. The visit provided him with insight regarding the many dimensions of business.

McFarland noted that that one business entity employs people in diverse professions, such as information technology to manage computer systems and culinary arts to feed people in the cafeteria.

“I mean, you think business is business, but I didn’t realize all the areas that are covered there,” he said. “It makes you more aware.”

McFarland plans to attend Penn State University in the fall to study computer science, a decision based, in part, on discussions and explorations at Achievers.

“We looked at what’s new, what’s growing and that’s computer science,” he said. “Plus, I’m interested in music. Music relates to technology and technology relates to music.”

The featured speaker at the banquet was Michael Markoe, associate superintendent for educational improvement and innovation at Washington County Public Schools.

The Achiever program honored Octavia Harris, director of human services at Hagerstown Volvo Group Truck Operations, and Brenda Thiam, an autism specialist with Washington County Public Schools.

Thiam said she grew up in North Carolina and did not have access to a program such as Achievers. Still, she went on to earn her Ph.D. in special education leadership.

“I feel like when a community has a program like this to help mentor our youth, adults have a responsibility to consider, ‘Where do I fit in?’” Thiam said. “We need to find our role in helping. Our youth are our future.”

Thiam pointed out that some young people dream of college, while for others, “that is not the right platform.”

“We need to make sure we are teaching them to invest in what their dreams are,” she said.

About 10 members of the Achievers arts-and-culture cluster provided entertainment, singing and dancing to numbers from “The Wiz.”

Teen achievers

The following students were honored Saturday night as 2012-13 Achievers by the Hagerstown YMCA:


• Seniors — Shaheed Bangura, Shyann Davis, Rashida Joaquin, Aaron McFarland, Destiny McQueen, Breyana Moore, Matthew Murray, Fatimah Smith                                    
• Juniors — Alexus Riras
• Sophomores — Elta Clarke, Kashia Joaquin, DeAndre Mitchell, Marqus Murray
• Freshmen — DeAndre’a Atkinson, Faith Franklin, Keegan Hill, Naomi Smith, Niah Ware
• Middle school students — Javaughn Barthley, Lauryn Daniels, Kira Davis, Kobe Davis, Caleb Goree, William Hardaway, Sierra Hill, Jace Hopp, Katherine Joaquin, Jadea Johnson, Nicole Murray

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