With the constant bombardment of bad news, it is important to acknowledge the good: the local pioneers who work relentlessly to better the lives in their communities, the diamonds in the rough.
Safe Harbors of the Hudson, a non-profit housing and arts organization based in Newburgh, will pay homage to two cornerstones of the community at their annual gala on Thursday, Sept. 19 at 6 p.m. Theresa Brown, a volunteer for Safe Harbors and former president of the board, will be honored as the 2019 Newburgh Champion. The Mid Hudson Times will be recognized as the event as a Corporate Good Neighbor.
Cornerstone champions are identified through a person’s work, volunteerism, commitment to their community and making Newburgh a better place for everyone.
“Theresa Brown really does typify the spirit of the award through her long and distinguished career as a champion of the arts, in education, and her tireless volunteerism with Safe Harbors and other Newburgh organizations,” said Lisa Silverstone, Executive Director of Safe Harbors of the Hudson. “She is unbelievably enthusiastic and has an incredible amount of energy for anything that she does.”
Safe Harbors began in 2002 with the purchase of the Hotel Newburgh. Through $21 million in state, county and federal funds, Safe Harbors transformed the deteriorating Hotel Newburgh into affordable, supportive housing.
“Safe Harbors is one of the few non-profit organizations that is reflective on their practice,” Brown said. “It has that grassroots sort of feel where we are going to go to one person at a time and really try to meet their needs. [We ask] ‘is what we are doing right?’ or ‘do we need to rethink it?’”
Brown earned a music therapy degree at SUNY Fredonia, and became a registered and board certified music therapist working with special needs children. Originally from Grand Island, New York, she moved to the Newburgh area to work with special education pre-K students at the Maryann and Mike O’Neil Learning Center, now known as the Newburgh Developmental Learning Center.
Brown continued on with her education to receive a Masters in elementary education, an administrative certificate and certification in music education and elementary education.
She taught general music at Washingtonville Junior High for a couple of years before moving on to work in the Newburgh Enlarged City School District for the rest of her career.
“I saw the amazing impact the arts can have on children…from when I began as a music therapist to when I was a music teacher to when I was an administrator for the school district,” Brown reflected. “The arts bring a level ground for everyone and is an expressive venue, whether it be in drama, music or visual arts.”
Brown became a part of Safe Harbors in 2006 after a fellow art teacher introduced her to June Henley, the director of programming at Safe Harbors. She quickly moved on to serve as the board president for approximately three years.
Without fail, Brown fosters meaningful and long-lasting relationships with her students, and nurtures family bonding through children’s craft activities. From orchestrating the Newburgh Enlarged City School District art show, to guiding her students in putting on theatrical performances, Brown’s dedication to the community and Safe Harbors runs deep.
“She has really been a champion of arts in the schools and an incredible believer in her students. She has gotten involved in so many activities that support her students and that support arts and culture in the city of Newburgh,” Silverstone said.
The announcement of the 2019 Newburgh Champion could not have come at a better time. In the beginning of May, Brown had just been in three different hospitals, and no doctor could give her a definitive diagnosis.
“I was really emotionally drained and tired, and then I took the phone call from Lisa. She told me that [I am the Newburgh Champion] and I just started crying,” Brown admitted.
Retired in June, Brown now contemplates how she wants to move forward. What she knows for certain, however, is that she will continue volunteering and will maintain her relationship with Safe Harbors.
“I would like to see us bring in a program in the Ann Street Gallery to open it up to more than just older students and adults,” Brown said. “We do [offer] painting at this time, but I would like to see real, hands-on classes, if at all possible.”
Currently, she volunteers with the Newburgh Basics Campaign, a project aimed at teaching parents and children the importance of early education starting from birth.
All cornerstone honorees are bestowed with an award made from the original terrazzo floor tile of the Green Room, the catering hall and venue of Hotel Newburgh.
The annual gala is one of two fundraisers that Safe Harbors hosts every year. It serves as a fundraiser for the organization, as well as an opportunity to celebrate with the community all the great work Safe Harbors is doing to make Newburgh a better place.
The Safe Harbors annual gala will begin at 6 p.m. at the Safe Harbors Green, located at 97 Broadway. Tickets cost $125, and may be bought through the Safe Harbors of the Hudson’s website: .safe-harbors.org/shop.