Nonprofit Aims to Transform Rockaway into an Oasis of Opportunities for Children

 Nonprofit Aims to Transform Rockaway into an Oasis of Opportunities for Children

By Kami-Leigh Agard

Parents — do you agree that Rockaway is a desert when it comes to options for meaningful recreational activities for children? Local mom, Pesy Therese, says yes, and has made it her mission to debunk that storyline through her nonprofit, For The Youth Foundation.

Some Rockaway locals may recognize Therese for being the co-owner of West African oceanside restaurant, The Cradle NYC, with her husband, Babajide Alao. Also in 2021, in collaboration with Edgemere Farm, the powerhouse couple launched a free summer camp program, Farming 101, to teach children not just about growing their own vegetables and fruit, but incorporating them in their daily meals to transform their families’ eating lifestyle.

Therese, mother of one-year-old Ileri and five-month-old Liora, said it wasn’t until she had her first born that she realized that there were few options for toddler-friendly activities.

She shared, “After welcoming Ileri in this world in 2022, I began looking for activities in the community to do with her. However, sadly I discovered that there really wasn’t much. So, unless one is heading to Manhattan, and not to mention, has the money to enroll their little ones in a pricey program, it’s almost impossible.

“Toddlers need a lot of attention, and this is the age in which they absorb everything, and their minds become fertile ground. So, I became determined to create a program where parents of any income bracket in Rockaway could access enriching kid-friendly activities in the area.”

So, Therese drummed up the idea for For The Youth Foundation (FTYF). According to FTYF’s website, the organization’s focus is on “empowering our youth and future leaders with the necessary tools and resources to lead fulfilling lives. We are deeply passionate about promoting community involvement, sustainable farming, nutrition, mental health, and healthy living.”

FTYF’s programs include education and nutrition, wellness, fitness and fun, and sustainability. For the past two years, the nonprofit has operated summer programs offering a variety of hands-on, team-building activities including arts and crafts, mindfulness, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and more. They served exclusively two groups: one for toddlers, ages one to five years old; and the second for elementary school-age children, five to 10 years old.

Therese said in 2024, FTYF is broadening its offerings to operate year-round with the education style patterned after the Montessori education method.

“I grew up in Democratic Republic of the Congo. My grandparents had a farm. So, everything around my childhood was very hands on. When I came to the U.S., I thought the schooling system was different. Students here are taught in a structured way, you know? So, the reason I want FTYF to be Montessori style because it gives young children the freedom to think outside the box to solve problems, not just in the classroom, but also the outside world by thinking for themselves,” she said.

FTYF’s nonprofit fiscal sponsor is Safe Space Mentor, an organization that facilitates wellness retreats, events, hiking groups, mentorship, therapy, and more to our community—all with the goal of creating opportunities and awareness for mental health and wellbeing. Therese serves on the organization’s board as director of philanthropy.

She said, “Safe Space’s founder is my best friend, Teya Knapp. When I Iaunched FTYF, Teya and I discovered that both organizations have a lot in common in terms of what and how we wanted to boost our respective communities, especially our emphasis on boosting mental health. The only difference was that Safe Space is aimed towards helping adults, and FTYF, young children. So, when I launched my organization, Teya joined the board and we agreed that her organization would be FTYF’s 501c3 fiscal sponsor.”

Also on FTYF’s board of directors are Rockaway locals, Tiara Toney, director of curriculum and programs, and Courtney Brokaw, director of business affairs.

Therese said to fulfill her 2024 mission to expand FTYF’s program offerings to be year-round, she’s really pulling up her bootstraps to focus on fundraising.

“Rockaway is an amazing community, and many businesses supported our summer program. For example, Kimo’s and Caracas provided lunch for our children, and Rockaway Brewing Co. gifted their space so we could host our summer program. However, our long-term goal for FTYF is to have our own space, where we could expand the number of children in the programs.

“Having welcomed my first child, I observed a scarcity of toddler-friendly activities in Rockaway, especially without venturing into the city. Despite numerous resources for moms, it became clear that affordable options for families were lacking. I want to underscore that our organization offers these essential resources to families and children at no cost. And I know with more funding and support, we can certainly transform Rockaway into a welcoming and supportive oasis for parents and their young children looking to build on their learning potential,” Therese said.

For more info and to donate towards For The Youth Foundation, visit:

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