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College fair in St. Albans teaches value of education

The generation or two that stand between the elder members of the St. Albans Congregational Church and the youth who are now coming of age in their community represent not just the passage of time but also the wisdom learned in life’s hard-fought lessons.

On Saturday, the retired members of the church’s Enriching Our Elders Ministry passed along the most important lesson of all — to never underestimate the value of a good education — by sponsoring the church’s third annual College Fair.

“You may retire from making a living, but you never retire from life,” said Rev. Henry Simmons, the senior pastor at the church, as people began filtering into the fair Saturday morning. “This is an example of how they are trying to pass on the importance of formal education to younger people.”

The five-hour event drew a few hundred participants to the church’s Robert Ross Johnson Family Life Center at 172-17 Linden Blvd., where representatives from dozens of schools launched into sales pitches at tables covered with brochures and application materials.

“Calvin Klein is our most famous graduate,” boasted Beverley Douglas, a dean’s assistant at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan.

Peta-Gaye Henry, an FIT student from Rosedale who is majoring in pattern-making, sounded more like a marketing executive as she extolled her school in a bid to secure the interest of prospective classmates.

“If you’re talented, there’s opportunity for you to express your skills at FIT,” she said.

The pool of schools included local institutions such as Queens College and York College, Harvard and Columbia of the Ivy League and historically black colleges like Howard University and Morehouse College.

Parents more anxious about finances than academics were able to collect information on scholarship and financial aid programs like the United Negro College Fund.

“I’m hoping to see different schools that he can apply to, especially in the way of scholarships,” said Evalina Spencer, a dietitian from Brooklyn, who visited the fair with her son Anthony, 16. “Eventually someone has to pay the bill.”

The church’s Enriching Our Elders Ministry, a group of 60 or so retired churchgoers, mounted the fair as part of its mission to dedicate themselves to the betterment of the community.

“We are a form of human resources through our professional and life experiences,” said Rev. Gular Glover, the ministry’s coordinator. “We feel we have a responsibility to offer this kind of service to the young people.”

Rev. Calvin Butts, the president of SUNY College at Old Westbury and senior minister at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Manhattan, offered up his own life story as an example of the value of education during his keynote speech.

“I want all the students to realize that you have many options,” Butts said. “This is not a narrow choice. Investigate all the schools.”

Lest students focus their college searches on the such details as the caliber of food and the size of dorm rooms, Butts entreated them to “cut right to the chase. Ask about the faculty, ask about the classes they offer.”

A graduate of Morehouse College in Georgia, Butts credited the teacher who first educated him in a one-room schoolhouse on a red-clay hill in Fitzgerald, Ga. with setting the foundation for a lifetime of learning. “From the age of zero to 3 you learn to read,” he said. “But from the age of 3 forward, you read to learn.”

As a student at Forest Hills High School, Butts said he never let up in his quest to be the best. “I had students of other races, other ethnicities leaning over to look at my paper,” he said, putting a proud emphasis on the “my.”

Some of the students in the crowd already had clear goals mapped out for themselves. Jai-ne Tilghman, 14, of Laurelton plans to go to college with her best friend Eryka Rogers, also 14, and topping their list are Spelman College, Harvard and Columbia.

She’s gonna be a lawyer and I’m gonna major in business —I want to be a hospital administrator,” Tilghman said.

Although it may be a few years before the high school freshmen reach those goals, Butts advised them to keep striving.

“Follow your dreams,” he said. “Everybody needs everything — we need artists, we need lawyers, we need doctors.”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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