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Janae Kellam Discovers Her Path with Henry Street’s A.C.E.S. Program

By David Montilla

Janae Kellam, 19, playing basketball at 301 Henry Street after school. 

For Janae Kellam, playing basketball does not feel optional. The SUNY Maritime student travels two hours from college to Henry Street’s courts on the Lower East Side—so she can unwind on the court at the end of the day—before taking the train another half hour train home to the Bronx. 

Janae learned about Henry Street’s athletics programs when a classmate at Seward Park High School on the Lower East Side brought her to Henry Street’s Boys & Girls Republic (BGR) to shoot hoops. As Henry Street’s programming expanded over the past year, so did her involvement, and last semester, she was as likely to be cooking in the Athletics and Community Enrichment Services (A.C.E.S.) Savor ‘n’ Serve class as she was to be shooting free throws. Making empanadas and Caribbean dishes like jerk salmon and Rasta Pasta (white sauce with yellow, red, and green peppers) has brought her closer to her father’s Caribbean roots.  

During summer 2023, two of Henry Street’s sites—BGR at 888 East 6th Street and the Education Services building 301 Henry Street—began staying open as late as 11 p.m. to address the recreation, safety, and mental health needs of youth and young adults who had shouldered some of the hardest burdens of the pandemic. Omar Kellman, the driving force behind this initiative—called the Teen Expansion Program, funded by the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development, set out to develop an a-la-carte type of programming to allow participants to explore their interests. The new offerings included not only culinary courses with Savor & Serve, but also Best of LES dance classes, TherapArt, A.C.E.S. E-Sports, City Tutors, music production, and open gyms for youth from ages 12 to 19. Sports and dance programming have continued through the winter of 2024. 

Janae says, “The experience helped me figure out what I want to do with my life.” During her freshman year of college, she questioned her path after receiving some low grades. With Omar encouraging her to maintain her focus on bringing up those grades, she applied herself and is on track to become the first person in her family with a bachelor’s degree. Now, Janae is studying international technology and trade where she is learning finance, economics, and logistics.   

Janae says the sense of community and togetherness within Henry Street’s A.C.E.S. is her primary reason for attending. “Programs like A.C.E.S. do not merely address immediate community concerns but actively shape the futures of young individuals. By providing diverse and enriching experiences, these initiatives contribute to the holistic development of youth, fostering connections, skills, and a sense of purpose that extends far beyond their immediate communities,” Omar says.  

Click here to learn more about all programs offered by A.C.E.S.

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