On Thursday, May 3rd, in the the Coolidge Corner Theatre’s grand, art-deco main theatre, BrooklineHub.com held its second annual Youth Awards celebrating the impact of local teens.
The evening began with a performace by U.S.-born, world-renowned flamenco guitarist Juanito Pascual. Before his last number, BrooklineHub.com Publisher Harvey Bravman said of Pascual, “In the music world, he’s a dude,” eliciting laughter from the sizable audience. He continued, “So you can say, ‘I thought he was good,’” when you hear his name in the future. The classical guitarist, seated in the stage's front right corner with one amp nearby, played a final composition while remaining guests filed into the theatre.
Bravman officially opened the event a few moments later, saying it is important thing, in an age of computers and smart phones, to get out of the house and listen to what young people have to say. He thanked the Coolidge’s executive director Denise Kasell and its staff for lending the space and their expertise for the event.
The entrepreneur and Brookline advocate served as the evening's emcee, prefacing each Youth Award presentation by a local sponsor and video interview with the teen recipient. Funds provided by award sponsors Koko Fitclub, The Bank of Canton, Zaftigs, Chobee Hoy Assoc. Real Estate, Coolidge Corner Imaging, Courtyard by Marriott, Healthworks, Eureka!, Eastern Bank, Stearns Wealth Management, MAFCU Credit Union, Advanced Digital Websites, Brookline Rotary and The Foundation To Be Named Later were directed to the Brookline Teen Center. A total of $12,000 was raised.
The evening was filled with moving stories of teens initiating change, persevering against the odds and reaching out to others, all played on the Coolidge’s silver screen. Two of the most stirring video interviews featured students who had come to the U.S. from other countries. The first was a series of 'then and now' interviews featuring 2011 Youth of the Year, Leslie Suriel. The Suriel family came from the Dominican Republic to Boston. In her video from last year, Ms. Suriel stated that she wanted to go to college, as her parents “made sacrifices to come to this country.” In a second video she filmed at UMass-Amherst, Leslie addressed the Youth Awards’ audience and congratulated this year's winners, explaining she was in the midst of finals week and couldn’t attend in person this year. Her brother Mariano (catcher for the BHS baseball team and Steps to Success program standout) then came to the stage to receive an award sponsored by Coolidge Corner Imaging. In his acceptance speech, he commented that his parents are his influences; “they work very hard and give our family a chance to succeed.”
The other particularly inspiring interview—among a group of very affecting stories—was Chernet Sisay’s, who was adopted as a youth from Ethiopia after living on the streets following the death of his parents from HIV/AIDS. Mr. Bravman explained at the video's outset that he and BrooklineHub.com Director of Videography & Photography, Chris DiNunzio couldn’t bear to edit any of that interview, which concluded with Sisay describing one of his talents and passions: running. He hopes to continue with his success on BHS’ team by competing on a division one squad in college.
Other highlights from the evening included a message from Paul Epstein’s brother, a guy named Theo. He encouraged the Youth Awards’ audience to continue its support of the Brookline Teen Center effort spearheaded by his brother, of whom Mr. Bravman said, “If he [Paul Epstein] says we need one—that’s it, it just has to happen.” Bravman announced that Mr. Epstein had raised $4.3 million for it so far, observing that that’s quite a feat in a down economy.
Earlier in the evening, after Sarah Gladstone was recognized with an award sponsored by The Bank of Canton , Mr. Bravman and Catie Hayes, Editor at BrooklineHub.com, walked through the aisles selling bracelets Gladstone made for her organization - The Starfish Project. Ms Gladstone directs funds raised by selling bracelets made of beads crafted by women in Cambodia to help young girls in Ethiopia suffering from obstetric fistula. At 13 years old, she has already raised $7K in addition to starting an education program about obstetric fistula.
In another memorable moment, Massachusetts 4th Congressional District candidate Joe Kennedy III joined the event as a featured guest speaker. In a speech celebrating teens gathered for the evening and encouraging their continued community engagement, Kennedy spoke on commitment to leadership, thanking the gathered youth for “standing up and joining the conversation and bringing your voice to the table.”
The night included introduction of the Roger Grande Social Justice Award; an award sponsored by Clear Flour Bread and created to recognize an adult mentor who inspires teens to become engaged in social justice issues. Receiving the awards in its initial appearance was none other than BHS teacher, Roger Grandeg for creating a Social Justice program at BHS and inspiring teens to get involved. Abe Faber, owner of Clear Flour Bakery introduced BHS student, Brookline Literacy Partership co-chair and 2011 Youth Award recipient Ben Hoff who presented the award to Mr. Grande. Joined on stage by students from several SAJE programs, Mr. Grande proclaimed that the night was “not about awards, [but] about stories.”
The evening culminated with the presentation of the Youth of the Year award. Catherine Marris, BHS senior received the award sponsored by The Foundation to Be Named Later. She said she loves that she lives in Brookline and that she will really miss it when she goes off to college.
All in all, the Youth Awards succeeded in getting both young and old alike out into the heart of Brookline in support of our community's continued growth.
By Andrew Palmacci