April 8, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

MTA Students Connect With Bronx Youth

Connections Program first cohort of volunteer MTA student tutors.

On December 6, brothers Arye (Ari) and Rafi Unger, both juniors at MTA high school, kicked off their tutoring program called Connections. Over the past two and a half months, MTA high school students have been tutoring 10 to 20 Bronx middle school students weekly.

Ari explained, “I moved to Riverdale when I was in the fifth grade and I played basketball pretty seriously. When we moved to the Bronx my father wanted to find a basketball program for me.”

Ari noted that his father found a recreational center in the Bronx, run by the NYC Parks Department, where both he and his brother could play and learn basketball. The centers offered free coaching from basketball players who received college scholarships and then returned to their communities. The centers also organized teams and leagues. “The centers were accepting of us. We found support systems and mentorships there. We wanted to figure out a way to give back to that community.”

This past summer, the Unger brothers came up with the idea of a tutoring program to help local public school students who utilize these recreation centers. “We saw an educational need for this community to help the public-school students who, after COVID, found the educational system has been lagging.” Ari explained that the purpose of the program has a two-pronged effect.

“First, it introduces Jewish students like us, who haven’t had the opportunity to really meet people outside their community, [to] offer a community service. Second, to provide a connection, which is why we call it Connections.”

As the brothers attend MTA, they decided to start the program within their school and currently have enlisted five student-tutors. MTA has partnered with a community center in the Norwood section of the Bronx. The five tutors are sent on a rotational basis to the community center, once a week, to help middle school students with their homework.

“Since we are students at MTA,” described Ari, “it was sort of natural we created our first hub there.” Ari continued, “The tutors in the program are solid in all their educational studies and high achievers. They are able to be good role models and also good representatives of the Jewish community. We also knew they wanted to do community service.”

The Ungers are hoping to expand this program by partnering other Jewish high schools in the metropolitan area with another community center and keep growing from there.

Ari explained, “I’m in talks with another community center in the Norwood area and I’m looking for another Jewish high school to partner with.”

MTA tutor Jacob Gurock remarked, “Tutoring is fun and fulfilling. It gives me the opportunity to connect with a whole community I never would have interacted with otherwise.”

Kelsey Phoenix, a recreational center employee noted, “This tutoring program, provided by high school students in the Bronx community, is inspiring to the future of our youth.”

A second employee, Michele Griffin, added, “We here at WBO (Williamsbridge Oval) love having Arye and his team collaborating with our youth. We love the idea of sharing ideas and learning about our common interests. Arye, along with his brother Rafi, have been recreation center members for many years, participating in the basketball programs and now giving back to their adopted community with homework help and tutoring.”

The Connections program is looking to raise funds to support its work. Ari explained, “The funding will help us provide transportation for the tutors to and from their school, and will also help with organizational costs, such as setting up a website and registering as a 501c3. If we raise enough money, we are looking to make our program more STEM-based and provide the tutors with robotic materials to use with the students.”

The Ungers acknowledge that New York City Councilman Eric Dinowitz and his office have given them strong encouragement. His Northwest Bronx Council District 11 includes both Riverdale and Norwood.

To learn more about the Connections program, Ari and Rafi Unger can be contacted at [email protected].

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