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Westport Sunrise Rotary Hears Student Success Stories From Project Morry

From left: Dawn Ewing, Executive Director of Project Morry; Deb Jones, Program Director at Project Morry; and Jeff Cohen, President of Westport Sunrise Rotary.
From left: Dawn Ewing, Executive Director of Project Morry; Deb Jones, Program Director at Project Morry; and Jeff Cohen, President of Westport Sunrise Rotary. Photo Credit: Hal Levy

WESTPORT, Conn. —  Westport Sunrise Rotary raises money for 40 local nonprofits and numerous international projects, and its members volunteer with many local organizations. As a benefit, the group regularly hears from speakers from these nonprofits.

On Friday, the group's speaker was Deb Jones, program director for Project Morry — a mentoring/coaching organization that works with youngsters from Bridgeport and six other metropolitan New York communities.

Project Morry is a 20-year-old memorial to Morry Stein, a former camp director whose premature death gave rise to a program combining summer sleepaway camping experiences with school year programs dedicated to strengthening its participants’ academic, personal and interpersonal skills.

The program now includes 420 students, from fifth through 12th grades, all from single-parent low-income homes. The largest contingent, 130 students, comes from Bridgeport. School social workers aid in choosing 28 of the students — one from each of the city's elementary schools.

Students are selected in the spring of fourth grade. They are introduced to the program during three-and-one-half weeks at the group’s camp in Port Jervis, N.Y. — tuition free. And they return each summer through the end of 10th grade.

The camp curriculum combats “summer learning loss,” by making academics an integral part of everyday activities. And personal and social skills are reinforced by mentors who are often Project Morry alumni.

When the students return to school, they attend monthly mentoring sessions that help “improve their social skills, self esteem, and gain a greater sense of personal responsibility.”

Project Morry students have the will to succeed. And succeed they do. Jones told the group that over 81 percent remain in the program through the nine-year commitment, 98 percent graduate from high school (in contrast, Bridgeport graduates about half of those who enter ninth grade), 85 percent go to college, and 91 percent of those receive a degree.

One participant who is well on her way is a young Bridgeport woman who was coached during her last two years in high school by a Sunrise Rotarian. She’s now a junior at Cornell.

Beneficiaries, Jones added, go beyond the program’s participants — parents gain, as do siblings, even friends of Project Morry’s students.

Executive Director Dawn Ewing summed up, saying “The impact we’re having on the kids is translating to the communities they’re going back to.”

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