It’s tough to imagine a fate more painful than outliving one’s own beloved child – all the worse when that child takes his or her own life. What can one do besides succumb to despair? Elise Gold and Mathew Swerdloff, whose 15-year-old daughter Maya Gold, a New Paltz High School student, committed suicide in October 2015, have spent this past year becoming role models for positive ways in which to cope with such an overwhelming family tragedy. They have created a not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to helping teens feel grounded, valued and valuable, teaching their communities strategies for supporting them better and carrying forward Maya’s own life ambition to ease the plight of orphans and homeless youth in Nepal. “We’re called to do it. We have to find a way to dialogue, to support our teens,” says Elise.
Though launched so recently, the Maya Gold Foundation quickly tapped into an outpouring of love and grief, and many volunteers stepped up to join the Board of Directors or to assist with organizing educational events. Consequently, the Foundation finds itself with a fall schedule packed with activity.
Screenagers showing in New Paltz
The Maya Gold Foundation’s educational Fall Community Series kicks off on Friday, September 23, with a documentary screening at 7 p.m. at the New Paltz High School auditorium, followed by a facilitated panel discussion including both adults and youth, and even a couple of representatives from Himalayan Children’s Charities Skyping in from Kathmandu. The 60-minute film is titled Screenagers: Growing up in the Digital Age, and it delves into the effects of contemporary electronic communications technology on youth culture, social connection, learning and brain development. You can check out the trailer at here.
The panel discussion, “Screenagers: What Do You Think?” will be facilitated by Tamara Cooper, LMSW, program director of Family of Woodstock’s Hotline and Crisis Center. Thanks to co-sponsorship from the New Paltz Central School District and Wild Earth, this event is free and open to the general public, with middle-school youth especially encouraged to attend.
Natalie Merchant benefit concert
There will be an all-star benefit concert scheduled for 7 p.m. on Saturday, October 22 at Studley Hall, in the Old Main Building at SUNY-New Paltz. Natalie Merchant is the headliner; she will be joined by Gail Ann Dorsey, Amy Helm, Rachel Loshak, Elizabeth Mitchell, Uri Sharlin and Simi Stone. Several New Paltz teens will be also be singing with Merchant and the other featured artists and reading some poetry selections. All funds raised will go toward programs for youth in New Paltz and for children in Nepal. Tickets cost $40 to $80 and can be ordered online at https://mgfoct22.bpt.me. The concert is expected to sell out, so it’s not too soon to get your tickets now.
“Emotions Matter: Creating More Compassionate Schools &Communities through Emotional Intelligence”
On Thursday, October 27, SUNY-New Paltz’s Humanistic/Multicultural Education Program will host a workshop and discussion titled “Emotions Matter: Creating More Compassionate Schools and Communities through Emotional Intelligence.” In a society that places such high value on STEM skills and work-world marketability, it’s important not to forget to focus on cultivating the capacity for empathy as a crucial component of a young person’s education. But sensitive, empathic youth are, almost by definition, more prone to internalize social ostracism, shaming and bullying, or to become depressed about the harshness of the wider world. “A lot of this has been driven by Maya,” Elise Gold notes. “She got it; she lived it.”
Presented by Shauna Tominey and Kathryn Lee of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, “Emotions Matter” will be an interactive evening that includes full-group learning activities and breakout discussions. According to the workshop description, “teens and families will learn tools and strategies for managing the range of emotions we all have in order to help reduce stress, improve communication and support one another in a way that helps us act and feel in a way that we feel good about…. We will also emphasize emotions as a point of connection across race, gender and class difference.”
This workshop begins at 7 p.m. in the Coykendall Science Building on the SUNY-New Paltz campus. Admission is free and open to all.
You Don’t Know Me until You Know Me
Another free event in the Fall Community Series begins at 7 p.m. on Thursday, November 17 at the Rosendale Theatre, co-sponsored by Wild Earth. In his one-man performance piece, You Don’t Know Me until You Know Me, Dr. Mykee Fowlin takes an audience on an experiential journey, having them reexamine core values that were taught to us from as early on as first grade, using humor, performance art, poetry, storytelling, psychology, theatrical monologues and stories of his own personal journey.
“Mykee is brilliant. He has a PhD in Psychology, and his dissertation was this show,” Elise enthuses. “Onstage, he has about ten chairs. In each one he becomes a different person and talks from the perspective of that person…witnessing stories about empathy and connectivity with people and breaking assumptions that we carry around.” Following the performance, Dr. Fowlin will lead a question-and-answer session for all attendees. Middle school students are encouraged to attend with an adult, and to continue the discussion afterwards.
What else is the Maya Gold Foundation up to? Plenty. It has just formed a Youth Advisory Board, all of whose members are aged 13 to 18. “We’re looking for the teens to guide us,” says Elise, about what gaps exist in their social and educational support systems and what measures work best to address them.
Artistically inclined teens were mobilized by the Foundation and the Roost Co-op to create a sculpture by repurposing discarded materials at the New Paltz Reuse Center on Clearwater Road. And the Foundation, true to its name, has recently announced the availability of small grants for youth-related community projects.
The quarterly application deadlines for Thrive Grants are easy to remember, coinciding with the solstices and equinoxes. A link to the online application form for can be found on the Foundation’s website at www.mayagoldfoundation.org, along with additional information about upcoming events and programs, plus ways to donate or volunteer.