The Message at OHEKA....Excel

Program Excel brunch attendees gather on the OHEKA grand staircase to thank Mr. Melius for his generosity.
Program Excel brunch attendees gather on the OHEKA grand staircase to thank Mr. Melius for his generosity.
Left to right: Ms. Jacqueline Harris, Rev. Dr. Alfonso Wyatt, Dr. David Bennardo, Ms. Lisa Brieff, and Mr. David Perkins.
Left to right: Ms. Jacqueline Harris, Rev. Dr. Alfonso Wyatt, Dr. David Bennardo, Ms. Lisa Brieff, and Mr. David Perkins.
Walt Whitman students, with Social Worker Intern Mr. Roberto Torres (back left), are ready for their table to be called up to the sumptuous buffet.
Walt Whitman students, with Social Worker Intern Mr. Roberto Torres (back left), are ready for their table to be called up to the sumptuous buffet.
Rev. Dr. Alfonso Wyatt gave a passionate keynote speech that resonated with the whole audience.
Rev. Dr. Alfonso Wyatt gave a passionate keynote speech that resonated with the whole audience.
Walt Whitman eleventh grader Kalif Jones entertained the audience with a rendition of “The Ladder.”
Walt Whitman eleventh grader Kalif Jones entertained the audience with a rendition of “The Ladder.”
Mr. Shaka Williams introduced 6th grader Elvira Taku.
Mr. Shaka Williams introduced 6th grader Elvira Taku.
Mr. Richard Garcia introduced Ana Monteforte  who gets a standing ovation.
Mr. Richard Garcia introduced Ana Monteforte who gets a standing ovation.
“Everyone has potential,” said Jonathan Acevedo. Walt Whitman Coordinator Patricia Urgiles looks on proudly.
“Everyone has potential,” said Jonathan Acevedo. Walt Whitman Coordinator Patricia Urgiles looks on proudly.

Eighty-five of South Huntington’s Project Excel students took part in a grand celebration at OHEKA Castle on Thursday, February 27th.  This special recognition brunch was dedicated to this year's Excel Program theme: "Preparing for Your Future." The brunch, donated entirely by OHEKA owner Mr. Gary Melius, provided a fitting tribute to one of the district’s most successful student programs.

The program began with a welcome address from Walt Whitman senior Berthin Lindor, a former Project Excel student who will be attending college next fall in Alabama. After a greeting from Schools Superintendent Dr. David Bennardo and Deputy Superintendent Ms. Jacqueline Harris, a heartwarming testimonial from Project Excel students brought the audience to their feet.

Silas Wood Coordinator Mr. Shaka Williams introduced 6th grader Elvina Tako who told the audience: “Being in Project Excel is like being part of a family, because the teachers get to watch us grow as students, plus you make great friends.”

Stimson Middle School Coordinator Mr. Richard Garcia introduced Ana Monteforte who shared her feelings about Project Excel. “This is my first year in Project Excel and it has been a great experience for me because it has helped me meet my goal of passing all my classes,” said Ana. “I also enjoy having a mentor, since I get to have lunch with her and just talk about life.”

Walt Whitman Coordinator Patricia Urgiles introduced Jonathan Acevedo. “Everyone has potential,” said Jonathan.  “When I got into the Excel program, everyone worked hard and motivated me to do the same and to reach my own potential. It’s that motivation that was so important for me.”

The assembled guests were treated to a morning of motivational presentations, skillfully facilitated by South Huntington’s Coordinator of Student Services, Mr. David Perkins. The Excel students listened intently to a powerful message from the mornings’ keynote speaker Rev. Dr. Alfonso Wyatt. 

Rev. Wyatt is an engaging speaker and author and spoke directly to the students about his seven principals of how to excel. One such principal he spoke about is how the young students in the audience are going to be older, a lot longer, than they are going to be young. “Its critically important to do what you have to do now, so that you can do what you would like to do later,”  Dr. Wyatt said, referring to good decision-making and how vital education is to the future success of the students in the audience. Another of the Reverends’ seven principals to excel is to travel with people who are going somewhere. “You have to have a direction, and follow people who are going somewhere.”

One of the morning's highlights came when Walt Whitman eleventh grader Kalif Jones entertained the audience with a rendition of “The Ladder.” With no musical accompaniment Kalif showed why he’s been a regular on New York’s Metropolitan Opera Company's stage. This Whitman junior has a gifted voice, and he moved the audience to a standing ovation.

This special Project Excel celebration came at a difficult time at OHEKA Castle.  With its owner still recuperating in a hospital, Gary Melius insisted that the show must go on and that the students in South Huntington will not be denied this fabulous opportunity in such an historic home. The audience circulated a large get-well card, which everyone signed, thanking Mr. Melius for his generosity.

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