Socialize, explore and be inspired

The newly formed The Upper Room is a new place intended to help teens morph into confident young adults


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  • Provided photo The Upper Room provides a safe space for area teens from grades 6-12 to socialize, engage and grow into confident young citizens. Its purpose is to not only help teens to develop healthy relationships, understand their self- worth and engage in activities that support self-worth while guiding emotions toward constructive behavior and decision-making. The Upper Room is held at the Ark of Learning in Highland Mills twice a month.



By Christine Urio

— Looking for a safe space for the teen in your life to socialize with friends, discuss life, explore the unknown and become inspired?

The Upper Room in Highland Mills could be just the place.

Developing leadersOrganizers say The Upper Room, a pilot program, currently facilitated by volunteers, provides a safe space for area teens from grades 6-12 to socialize, engage and grow into confident young citizens.

Its purpose is to not only help teens to develop healthy relationships, understand their self-worth and engage in activities that support self-worth while guiding emotions toward constructive behavior and decision-making.

The hope is that teens will use the group as an opportunity to realize, develop and fulfill self potential and aspirations and develop leadership qualities to impact community.

The needs of young people“The goal of the Upper Room is to mentor, explore, and inspire each other—each one, teach one,” said Jacqueline Hernandez, a Highland Mills resident and the program's creator and director. “We want teens to engage in challenges and problems with life skills acquired through this program.”

The inspiration to create the Upper Room was Hernandez’s own children.

“I have a 16-year-old, two 13-year-olds, and an 11-year-old in the Cornwall School District and worked with teens for a number of years in the Boys Club of New York, as well as within the Department of Education,” she said. “My experiences have made me keenly aware of the needs of teens.”

'Fun without fear of being judged'Some teens joined because they want to be part of something bigger.

“I want to be a better version of myself and meet new people,” said Raely Rodriguez, a ninth- grader at Monroe-Woodbury High School. “This is an important aspect of this community to unite people of other towns, and for teens to have a safe haven to be themselves and have fun without fear of being judged.”

The Upper Room's short-term goal is to find financing and get approvals to build a teen center in Cornwall. Hernandez is also working with the Town of Woodbury to develop a similar program through its recreation program.

“It’s important for teens to have a safe space to socialize and discuss life issues with because in today’s society, teens have turned to technology in place of relationships, and social interactions provide teens with the framework of healthy relationships,” Hernandez said. “Without opportunities to have these interactions, teens will experience low self-worth, depression, and social awkwardness. The Upper Room seeks to address this need.”

Justina Guglielminetti, an Cornwall High School 11th grader, agreed it's important to socialize and join teens in the community.

“I joined to meet new people and to have fun, I want to make new friends and have a place to hang out,” she said. “This program lets teens know that they have a voice and they are being heard, and to build confidence and personality.”

ResourcesThe Upper Room is designed to provide a number of resources to teens, ranging from professional mentorship, group discussions, entrepreneurship, leadership, and life skills, to academic support, advocacy and community projects, and most importantly, fun.

“The setting is informal and designed to empower teens to become confident, responsible, and valued young adults,” said Hernandez.

'It's our future'Some teens have joined in order to give moral support to their friends.

“I started going to help a friend, but now I genuinely enjoy spending time here because this place shows that we, as a community, are willing to support something that no one has heard about yet,” said Tahir Ayala, a Cornwall 11th grader. “Youth, nowadays, are driven more toward positive change in the world, especially since it’s our future and this is a start toward something good.”

Teens are given the opportunity to have new experiences with people.

“Meaningful youth engagement as equal partners with adults in the decision making process provides teens with positive self-image and feelings of self- worth for youth between the ages of 11 to 17,” Hernandez said. “The Upper Room will provide the opportunity for teens to exercise this process.”

A sense of communityHernandez felt the Upper Room helps to build a sense of community as a whole, as well as strengthens the youth community by fostering positive relationships with others, and themselves.

“This is very important to the community because teens have an actual place to have fun and to hang out with friends that parents know where they are,” said Justice Batista, a Cornwall 10th grader. “Teens must know their worth because they need to be confident in order to become the best version of themselves.”

Still, it's more than just fun.

“I hope to meet new people and be a part of a place that helps me to reach my highest potential," added Brianna Hernandez, a Cornwall 11th grader, because the Upper Room gives us a safe place to learn about ourselves and others, and to become leaders in the community.”

Essential informationThe Upper Room is held at the Ark of Learning in Highland Mills twice a month.

Parents interested in having their teens participate in the program can email Hernandez at TheUpperRoom1635@gmail.com or call 534-8888.

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