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Preston Center expands outreach

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Preston Center of Compassion is becoming even more compassionate.

The center is branching out in hopes of expanding its tutoring, senior citizen outreach, and care for mentally challenged children.

The center hosted its first annual fundraising dinner on the porch of Preston High School’s waterfront mansion on the evening of Thursday, August 5. The venue offered spectacular river views of the Throgs Neck and Bronx-Whitestone bridges. Hundreds of attendeeswere on hand to see the center’s founder, Sister Anne Kelly, and 18-year Preston summer camp assistant director Michael Houlihan, honored for their service.

The Preston Center originally grew out of a summer basketball camp and counseling program founded in the 1990s, and obtained its first grant through Throggs Neck Community Action Partnership.

Executive director Sister Patricia Warner said that it was Sister Kelly’s vision for developing programs to meet the needs of the community that gave the organization a strong foundation.

“I find it hard to say that I am so used to giving to others, but I am humbled by the award here tonight,” Kelly said when accepting her award.

Sister Warner spoke of Kelly as a visionary leader who was born in the Throggs Neck community, attending both St. Benedict’s and Preston High School before deciding to join the order of the Sisters of Divine Compassion. Houlihan called Sister Kelly “a great and true molder of character.”

Kelly said she founded the center to meet the needs of a multi-faceted Throggs Neck community, including everyone from toddlers to seniors. “Besides the school, the center allows us to reach the elderly, very young children, and adults who you would otherwise not reach,” she said.

The center is a non-sectarian organization, and a non-profit that competes for grants from federal, state and local governments and other organizations.

The seven-week summer camp now has partnerships with several major colleges and universities that provide students with opportunities to learn about science and technology, sports, and the arts.

The camp offers robotics through a partnership with Pace University, boating and kayaking through a partnership with SUNY Maritime, and dance through a partnership with SUNY Purchase. Students from all over the borough and beyond attend.

The gala included a $5,000 raffle, and a number of local businesses contributed to the cause by providing food either for free or at a reduced rate.

Beverages were donated by Pepsi Bottling on Brush Avenue, and flowers were donated by Jerome Florist at 3724 E. Tremont Avenue.

Houlihan, a former principal and teacher at St. Frances de Chantal School, recalled the summer camp’s humble beginnings as a two-week basketball camp in the early 1990s, and felt good to think of how much the program has grown.

“The camp helps children develop into better citizens who are respectful of other people, and helps enhance their self-esteem,” Houlihan said. “And now we have children from all over the area, not just from Throggs Neck.”

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