This year’s Distinguished Friend of Education Award, which comes from Ulster County’s School Boards Association, has been given to someone who has had an outsized impact in the New Paltz district: Phoenix Kawamoto. A longtime advocate for youth who has in recent years served as the Community Education Coordinator in the Town of New Paltz, Kawamoto spearheaded the counterpart to the school lunchroom known by the initialism “CAFE,” short for “cafeteria alternative for everyone.” It’s a space that’s described as having a less frenetic energy than the cafeteria, and it’s a space that has proven appealing to an increasing number of students. In lauding Kawamoto, trustee Teresa Thompson called it a “space to decompress” where one would find conversation, games, snacks and even the opportunity for tutoring. Thompson said that Kawamoto has worked to ensure that the CAFE space can accommodate all who want to be there. In addition, when the need for that space was nonexistent due to pandemic restrictions, Kawamoto found other ways to engage with young people through the schools, such as organizing window painting.
In a voice breaking with emotion, Kawamoto called it “such a privilege to work in service for this community.” In brief remarks, Kawamoto turned the gratitude back on the people in the school community, saying that it’s the support provided by administrators and staff members that make this popular and valuable program possible at all.