NYCHEA Knows: Windows of OpportunityWade Phelps
By By Joanna Lodin
NYCHEA – A publication of New York City Home Educators Alliance
Thanks to my friend, Laurie Spigel, I recently had the great pleasure of meeting Hal Eisenberg and Roger Dennis who created and now guide the non-profit agency, Windows of Opportunity (WOO) here in NYC. WOO offers a wide range of programs for teens to build leadership skills, address social issues and perform community outreach. Hal and Roger’s drive and passion for encouraging teens is truly infectious, and I asked them to share with me their background, the history of the organization, and how they imagine WOO as a resource for our homeschooling community.
Joanna Lodin: Tell me about your previous work that led you to WOO.
Hal Eisenberg: I got my Masters Degree in Social Work from Adelphi University and became a Licensed Master Social Worker, focusing first on violence prevention training for professionals under Project Save (Safe Schools Against Violence in Education). I have been working with youth and developing programs to support them for the past 15 years.
Roger: I’m a retired NYC public school teacher and counselor who always had trouble with the way students (primarily) were treated in the system. I researched non-traditional education and became a strong proponent of democratic education and unschooling. I’m a committed youth empowerment advocate, and also a longtime peace and human relations activist.
What prompted you to start Windows of Opportunity?
Hal: Windows of Opportunity was born in 1997 when I started working in Queens as the director of a community service program and saw the unmet need for youth services. After working with families, youth and local politicians for four years, I jumped into the arena of public education. I was able, then, to see first hand what incredible ideas young people had when they were given the freedom to express th
emselves. In 2002, my aunt passed away, as a result of the work she did as a first responder on 9-11. This became the catalyst for me to start WOO in her memory and begin this life course towards empowering youth to be great empathic leaders. The agency has grown tremendously since 2002. We now currently coordinate 11 programs, which provide young people between the ages of 6 to 24 with a healthy, safe, and positive environment in which they are encouraged to develop their unique potential.
What are some of the programs you’ve developed?
Hal: Part of what we do is respond to the needs in the communities and schools we work in. So we established a counseling program for students focusing on the prevention of alcohol, tobacco, drug abuse, and related issues such as anger management and conflict
resolution. But we’ve also been inspired by our youth leaders to create an HIV Peer Empowerment and Leadership Program, a fashion and modeling program called Shortstack that addresses the need for a healthy body image, and a program called The Inner You, as well as several additional leadership, educational and arts based programs.
What do you feel are the most important skills teens need to be successful?
Roger: Resourcefulness, adaptability, self-empowerment, creative problem-solving skills. Ability to communicate with, and live in harmony with, people from diverse backgrounds. The willingness to live their lives the way they truly want to live them.
How do you think the homeschooling community in NYC can benefit from your programs?
Hal: Every WOO program operates from the space of respect (for self and others) and self-empowerment. All young people can use more of these qualities.
Roger: Incidentally, neither Hal nor I know much about the homeschooling community, so – besides hoping to make a contribution – we are excited to see what we will learn about homeschooling and especially what it looks like in the NYC area. I do have a lot of experience with democratic education and thus unschooling and I expect that a good number of NYC homeschoolers have a strong say in designing their curriculum. I would love to meet your homeschooling families and see how we can contribute to the community.
What is your ultimate goal?
Hal: We want to live in a world where everyone is safe and happy, and we think the young people can be the catalyst to create that world, if they are given the tools and the opportunity. We believe that, generally speaking, young people are more idealistic and
much more capable of thinking outside the box. Much more capable, therefore, of doing – in concert with those of us adults who are in harmony with them – the kind of creative problem-solving the world needs at this point in our history.
Roger: We are especially excited about the prospect of meeting those in the homeschool community who want to make a real difference in the world, and then working together to do so!
For more information about WOO and its programs, please visit: http://wooinc.org.
Hal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and Roger at email@example.com