Growing up in the foster care system isn’t easy. Judith Halbreich helps empower youths, transitions them out of the system and transforms them into leaders.
By the start of the next school year, nearly a dozen foster care youths will be residing in New Paltz as they hone their leadership skills.
The person behind this support initiative is Judith Halbreich, founder of the Home of Champions, a New Paltz-based non-profit organization aimed at developing youths emerging from the foster care system into self-sufficient leaders. Halbreich said that the concept behind Home of Champions is distinct because while other organizations focus on securing jobs for foster care youths, she is aiming to provide them with educational opportunities, as well as job training sessions, to inspire their personal and professional growth.
Most of Halbreich’s life has been focused on assisting the less fortunate. For the past seven years, Halbreich has worked as the Director of the Adult Outpatient Mental Health Department at the Upper Manhattan Mental Health Center in Harlem. Halbreich cited the time-honored saying, “We’re all diamonds in the rough, but we just need to polish ourselves,” as part of her inspiration for starting the program.
“I grew up in a community-oriented family that helped foster kids,” Halbreich said. “When I was a camp counselor in high school, I remember taking teenagers on weekend retreats and seeing the results it had on these abused and neglected kids. It’s part of why I wanted to start a program around building up their self-esteem.”
When Home of Champions opens this fall, it will accept eight to 10 youths for the inaugural school year, mostly based on referrals from local foster care agencies. Halbreich said she intends to select 16-year-olds from the Hudson Valley as well as foster care adults ages 18-24 from New York City.
According to Halbreich, the program will rely on a thorough screening process to identify young leaders for the program. Halbreich said that she and her staff will be looking for ambitious youths who have an interest in helping their community as well as “acquiring skills to grow as a person.”
“These will be youths who have a full understanding of being a leader,” Halbreich said. “Leaders are people who have passion, that stay positive and are ready to take care of themselves.”
Halbreich said that Home of Champions was modeled after similar foster care organizations like the Chelsea Foyer and LEAD Israel Youth Leadership Development, a non-profit organization which aims to “empower and develop” hundreds of Israeli youths each year. Within three years, she said she hopes to increase the organization’s enrollment to 40 participants, as well as host a complimentary summer leadership program.
According to Halbreich, she spent two years looking for a “home base” for the program when she found available property at 85 Springtown Road in New Paltz. However, purchasing the land was not an easy task due to the fact that its previous owner was the late heavyweight boxing champion Floyd Patterson, also known as “The Gentleman of New Paltz.” The property served as Patterson’s home from his retirement in 1972 until his death in 2006.
In addition to securing a building to house the program, Halbreich has been working to establish academic partnerships with SUNY New Paltz, SUNY Ulster, Culinary Institute of America and the United States Military Academy at West Point. She said that she wants to coordinate leadership seminars for her students with each institutional partner.
Halbreich said that she intends to host a launch event for Home of Champions on Sept. 9. For more information about Home of Champions, visit their website at homeofchampionsny.org.