Hired in 1999 as an Educational Advisor for the B.E.L.L. Foundation's afterschool program at P.S. 30 in East Harlem, Yolonde Van Putten's commitment to the program and the young people she serves has been constant and unwavering over the past few years, despite tumultuous circumstances and, at times, harsh financial conditions.
Describing the environment when she first arrived, Van Putten said, "The children suffered a lot socially and academically," she said. "We decided to take academics to a higher level." To this end, Van Putten, who was since promoted to Site Director, instituted mandatory journal writing that focused on expressing opinions and addressing issues of self-identity, created a program library, and launched a newspaper, in addition to developing an initiative to implement Reading and Math Labs in B.E.L.L. sites around the city. Moreover, Van Putten has succeeded in significantly increasing community involvement in P.S. 30 by offering services to parents and encouraging parent participation. "We help the parents to help the children," she said.
Much of Van Putten's approach and success has centered on arts and performance, as she strives to incorporate her background as a media specialist in the program's activities. She currently hosts a morning radio show, "The Chat Box", on WCHR, offers tap and ballet classes, and coordinates performances to showcase the young people's work.
Van Putten's greatest challenge came in the Fall, when she was notified that, due to significant funding cuts from the B.E.L.L. Foundation's private donors, programs at two sites had to be cut immediately, including P.S. 30. When faced with the news that the program was on the line, Van Putten, a single mother and student, responded, "What about the children?" Rising to the occasion, Van Putten and her staff offered to continue the program on a volunteer basis, five days a week. By forgoing a steady paycheck and job security, Van Putten saved the afterschool programming of over one hundred young people.
Summing up her actions over the past few years, Van Putten said, "You just do it because it needs to be done."