Meet Our Alumni
Our Alumni Spotlight highlights the achievements of the boys and young men who turned to BCNY for support and guidance. Their combined experiences prove what it means to be competent, confident, character-rich, and connected.
The Ortega Brothers
During their time at BCNY’s Abbe Clubhouse in Flushing, Queens, Jake and Evan were active members and peer counselors. Antonio Aponte, Director of Educational and Career Services, remembers the alumni fondly: “The Ortega brothers gave a lot to the Boys’ Club. They were kids who gave back to other kids. They shined from an early age.” Through his 20+ years at BCNY, Antonio, an alumnus himself, found that mentoring relationships can be “life-changing.” They enrich both mentor and mentee; the partnership is built on mutual respect and is beneficial to all.
This reciprocity is one of BCNY’s guiding principles. BCNY’s High School Access Program (HSA), which evolved from the Independent School Placement program (ISP), has been pivotal in the lives of thousands of members, including Jake and Evan’s. The first of its kind in the U.S., ISP and HSA have prepared and placed members from economically and racially diverse backgrounds into academically rigorous independent boarding and day schools nationwide. Empowered to pursue their academic goals, Jake attended The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey and Evan attended George School in Pennsylvania. “It was eye-opening to see how a New York City kid like myself or Jake could enroll in two of the top-ranked private schools in the country.”
After high school, Jake attended Cornell University, earning his Bachelor of Science in Industrial and Labor Relations. He is now a Business Analyst at Fulcrum Digital Inc. Evan, 24, graduated from Baruch College in 2020, earning his Bachelor of Business Administration in Finance. He is currently an Accounting Operations Representative at Bloomberg LP.
During college, Evan remained deeply connected to BCNY. He tutored Harriman Clubhouse members and interned in BCNY’s finance department. He then participated in the Bloomberg Summer Internship program. This program was launched by Elaine Langone, a longtime BCNY supporter and trustee. “The Boys’ Club helped me get an internship with Bloomberg during my senior year, which I parlayed into a full-time employment offer” shared Evan.
Inspired to help empower the next generation of BCNY members, Jake and Evan remain close to the community. “Each boy holds the baton to pass to the next,” declared Antonio. Evan has adopted this practice at Bloomberg: “I now mentor two BCNY interns at Bloomberg. I’m helping them navigate their internship and feel connected so that they can work more effectively. And hopefully, they can one day give back to fellow members and inspire them to do the same.”
Lorenzo Bernardez, ISP Alumni
BCNY Alumnus Lorenzo Bernardez recently addressed a group of BCNY supporters and shared his Boys’ Club story with them, excerpted below.
My name is Lorenzo Bernardez, I am 24 years old and I am a proud alumnus of BCNY’s Independent School Placement program. Through this educational prep program, I had the privilege of attending Suffield Academy for three great years.
Growing up as a young male in the South Bronx, life had its challenges. Gangs, drugs, and violence polluted the area. I had to grow up a lot faster than a normal child would, once even being assaulted by a group of teenagers at age eight. Nonetheless, I was grateful to have a strong family, great neighbors and an even greater support system at BCNY.
The transition to Suffield Academy might never have happened at all, and certainly would have been much more difficult, if it wasn’t for BCNY. I had never in my life been around so many great people doing such amazing things; at BCNY people from neighborhoods like mine were excelling in academics and sports. To me it was a no-brainer to become part of this great place and join ISP. The SSAT and SAT programs helped me navigate standardized tests. The ISP Prep [program] helped sharpen my academics, making me a better student. We [also] got to meet kids who already attended the schools where we were applying—that meant a great deal to me.
In no time, I was on Suffield Academy’s campus, excelling in all of my classes, playing baseball and even becoming head of the multi-cultural association and junior class president.
Since graduating from ISP, I have returned to BCNY as an employee, helping boys like me turn academic weaknesses into strengths. Now being on the other side of the fence, I see how important it is to have staff in these positions who really care about the wellbeing of the children.
Last year, I graduated from Post University in Connecticut, where I played baseball and graduated with a bachelor in business administration and a minor in sport management. [Today I’m in] the Public Service Management program at City College of New York.
I hope that this Master’s in Public Administration will allow me to better support my family. I hope that I can lead and inspire youth the way that I was led and inspired. But most importantly, I hope my MPA will lead to even more opportunities, further building on the foundation that The Boys’ Club of New York paved for me.
Thank you for helping young men like myself get the opportunity to overcome adversity and make their situations better for themselves and their families. You guys impact many communities and families across New York City. Thank you for being here and thank you for believing in the mission of The Boys’ Club of New York.
Police Officer Martin Munoz
BCNY alumnus Martin Munoz is a police officer with the New York Police Department. Like so many professions impacted by this global health crisis, normal day-to-day operations are a thing of the past for the NYPD. For one, if you take a look on the homepage of the agency’s website, you’re met with a surge of information on coronavirus, agency service suspensions and reductions, and a link to report a social distancing violation.
“Before entering a department facility, temperatures are taken, and facial masks are provided. This was a big adjustment for me, getting accustomed to wearing a face covering. My biggest fear is that this pandemic will continue for an undetermined amount of time because we are social beings by nature. Human interaction is needed for our healthy emotional development.”
Martin, who identifies as Mexican American, grew up in the Lower East Side and joined the Harriman Clubhouse in 1986 at the age of 13.
“Back then, members were classified into three categories: Midgets, Juniors, and Intermediates. I was a Junior when I first entered the Boys’ Club doors. I did not know it then, but the clubhouse would become an important part of my life. I initially joined to become more sociable, which was my mother’s idea. She did not like the fact that I was coming home from school, watching television, and eating. The Boys’ Club provided me, an overweight kid, with physical activity. I also became a member of the now-discontinued boxing team. I represented BCNY in the famed ‘New York City Golden Gloves,’ in the Superheavyweight Division. I even made it to the semifinals two years in a row! This gave me the confidence to pursue other life goals. This would not have been possible if not for BCNY.”
The Boys’ Club, says Martin, provided him with the foundation for adulthood.
“During my younger years, I did not understand the value of an education—chalk it up to lack of maturity. There was a period in my life when I was more focused on my athletic career. After my amateur career with the New York City Golden Gloves was over, I contemplated a professional career, but it never quite manifested. Thankfully, the Boys’ Club reinforced what my parents taught me. At one point, I enrolled at LaGuardia Community College, so that I could work at the Boys’ Club because being in school was a condition of my employment.”
Working at the Boys’ Club sparked Martin’s interest in public service. He eventually transferred to the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) and majored in human services.
“During my period at BMCC, I would walk past One Police Plaza and fantasize about being a police officer. As a kid, I would watch television shows that centered around cops, shows like Kojack and Hill Street Blues, to name a few.”
After stints in law enforcement with The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) and The New York City Department of Corrections, Martin pursued his lifelong dream, joining the New York Police Department.
“I was not your typical police recruit; I was in my early thirties. Eventually, I transferred to a new command, where a sergeant took a special liking to me. I became his driver, and during my time working with him, I would discuss my desire to finish my education. I never felt like I had the intellectual capacity to get an undergraduate degree. For whatever reason, he encouraged me to pursue my education. One day on patrol, he said he needed to make a stop. We drove to 59th Street and 10th Avenue. We went inside the building, and I just tagged along, listening to him ask questions about the admissions process. That day would change my life. Sgt. Ramroop stated that I would start taking classes by next semester. I was taken by surprise. I wasn’t sure if I was yet ready. Sgt. Ramroop said I was ready and paid my admissions fee to get into the program. In January 2016, I enrolled in my first class at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.”
Martin completed his undergraduate studies in the summer of 2018 and immediately began the graduate portion of the NYPD Leadership Program at John Jay. His goal is to teach and share the knowledge he’s acquired so others, too, may be inspired by his story.
“I am a work in progress. I am constantly learning and developing my skills. And now, during this pandemic, I rely on family conversations and reading a good book to maintain a sense of normalcy and put me at ease.”
Martin is an example to us all that life is a constant cycle of learning, growing, and believing in a brighter day—a lesson of hope and perseverance that can serve as an anchor in these fragile times.
“If I can provide any words of encouragement during this time of uncertainty, I’d say take precautions as advised by medical experts, check on loved ones, and remain positive. This might sound a bit clichéd, but we will get through this.”
Benson Ku is a general psychiatry resident in the Emory University School of Medicine. The opinions expressed in this interview do not represent those of Emory Healthcare or Emory University School of Medicine.
Can you tell us briefly about you, your childhood, and the role The Boys’ Club played in your life?
I grew up in a socioeconomically disadvantaged family in Queens. I was a member of the Abbe Clubhouse in Flushing and was accepted into the Independent School Placement (ISP) Program despite my academic shortcomings at that time. This program, under the directorship of Antonio Aponte, prepared me, advocated for me, and believed in me. I was able to attend and graduate from Middlesex School and Columbia University. After graduation from ISP, I went back to mentor and teach middle and high school students. I saw my younger self in many kids in this program, and I wanted them to know that they could overcome these struggles just like I did. I am forever grateful that The Boys’ Club of New York welcomed me with open arms, and I would not be where I am today without their love and support.
How long have you studied in your field? Are there any pivotal people or moments that led you to the medical profession?
I am a second-year psychiatry resident on the Research Track with a focus on public health research. I was drawn to this field of medicine because of the opportunity to positively impact the lives of the most underserved. I first thought about becoming a doctor after an invitation to perform a magic show at the Boston Children’s Hospital. After being asked a question about life and death, I considered a profession that could treat and prevent serious illnesses among vulnerable individuals. During medical school, I was curious to better understand and identify key risk factors in the development of severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. I learned about how this knowledge has the power to not only provide early intervention to those at high risk but also to prevent debilitating diseases from occurring. I feel that being involved with this type of research has helped me gain a greater awareness of prevention in addition to treatment and wellness for my patients.
As a second-year Psychiatrist during a pandemic, what are some of the daily challenges you face?
This is a strange time for all of us. We are all under a lot of stress and encountering a pandemic that we have never faced before. Many hospitals have now canceled all but emergency visits and surgeries. And we need to remember that just because we’re in a pandemic does not mean that other medical emergencies stop. People still have broken bones to fix, people still have heart attacks, people still have suicidal ideations, and people happily are still having babies. The work of the healthcare workers marches on, and we will continue caring for the people who need us. But in the face of increasing need, our resources for taking care of each patient are precious and essential. Although limited resources are an ongoing challenge, I would like to thank the community members who have pitched in to donate medical supplies to keep our patients and staff safe.
What are some key points that you would like our members to be aware of? Can you debunk some frequent misconceptions about COVID-19?
A colleague at my institution, Michelle Au, MD, MPH, an anesthesiologist, eloquently put together a few key points that I will share with you all. Many have referred to healthcare workers as working on the “frontline” of this pandemic. I understand the terminology and the inclination to use wartime metaphors in this moment is apt. However, one thing needs to be made clear. Healthcare workers are NOT the frontline in this battle. We, as healthcare workers, stand in the back. We are the LAST line of defense, and we hope the fight never gets to us. The frontline of this epidemic is you; the people in the community tasked with the challenge of keeping us all safe. The history of Public Health is a story of prevention. Public health is about preventing more significant problems before they happen, and we need YOU on the frontlines to help stand guard. These are some ways you can help:
- Social distancing
- Cleaning and frequently sanitizing to prevent community spread
- Applying quarantine when indicated
Hopefully, we will add to this list vaccination as one further Public Health measure in this fight.
So, thank you for standing on the frontlines for us and know that all of us on the LAST line of defense appreciate anything you can do to help.
Some of our members live with elderly family members and they would like to know what to be aware of.
Many people live with other family members who may be elderly. Elderly people and those who are immunocompromised are most vulnerable to this disease. They should, as much as possible, stay at home. To limit the spread of this disease, everyone should frequently be cleaning, sanitizing, and maintaining a distance of six feet to not only protect themselves but also to protect others around them.
Can you share any positive comments for our members, families, and BCNY community?
With the coronavirus outbreak having devastating impacts on our lives and expected to worsen before getting better, it may be challenging to have a positive outlook. However, amid all the doom and gloom, there has been so much support and camaraderie in our institutions, hospitals, and the wider community. Emory medical students have organized over 100 students in Atlanta to volunteer to assist healthcare workers with essential tasks, including childcare, grocery delivery, and meal preparation. People have been sewing masks and donating them to hospitals throughout the county. Kids have been keeping in touch with their families by delivering cookies and writing special messages in chalk on the sidewalks. These acts of kindness remind us that although we may be physically distant, we are all in this together.
What are some of your favorite activities?
I love to run every morning and spend time with friends and family. During this pandemic, I have been able to connect with them through Zoom and even started a weekly virtual Record Club with my friends to talk about our favorite music albums.
Kai grew up one block away from Harriman Clubhouse, and joined the Boys’ Club at the age of seven for only 50 cents. At school, he was usually the last kid picked for sports teams, and naturally gravitated towards the arts. Once he joined BCNY, Kai found a place where his interests were celebrated. He joined the glee club and art club, and fondly remembers singing in front of Trustees and enjoying corned beef sandwiches with them afterwards. At the clubhouse, he met Congressman John Lindsay and famous sports figures, which opened up his world.
Around middle school, Kai dropped out of Chinese school to spend more time at the Boys’ Club and fully commit to programs he valued, especially arts and education programs. As Kai says, “At BCNY it didn’t matter what race or religion you were; everyone was accepted.”
Kai credits the Boys’ Club and the education program with his first big break: gaining admittance to the South Kent School in Connecticut. BCNY even provided him with a scholarship. After graduating, Kai attended Wabash College. Later he joined the Navy and served for 10 years before enrolling in Columbia University, where he earned a Masters of International Affairs degree in Banking and Finance. Kai went on to have a successful banking career at JP Morgan Chase.
Now that he’s retired, Kai looks forward to becoming more involved with the Boys’ Club. As Kai says, “If someone gives you something, I believe you need to pay it back.”