Maxine O’Connor didn’t have the easiest path.
O'Connor, who serves as the assistant superintendent of pupil services at Peekskill schools, said her family didn’t have a lot of money and it wasn’t a given that she’d even attend college. Still, she found a way.
"There are scholarships that people don’t even know to apply for," O’Connor told an audience of about 30 girls in the Peekskill High School gymnasium Friday. "If you take the time to research it, you can find a way to go to school. But I’ll tell you what; a lot of schools will find the money for you if you come with the grades."
O’Connor was one of four guest panelists who shared their experiences during "Girls Night Out," and event sponsored by Peekskill High School’s Project Butterfly.
Other guest panelists Friday’s even included Vivian Cyndi McKenzie, the owner Kathleen Tea Room in Peekskill; Belle Ritter, a dance instructor and former member of the group Sweet Sensation; and Allison Tapley, a former chemist for the pigment division at the Engelhard Corporation.
Project Butterfly, which was started earlier this school year, is an organization that dedicated to helping girls in the high school reach their potential. Friday's meeting was the first event organized by the group.
"We just wanted to tap into our young girls and say there’s more to you than what reality or television is trying to depict,' said Marge Daniels, assistant principal for guidance at Peekskill High School. "Despite what you may see yourself as right now, you’re still able to soar and fly and be all that you can be. Sometimes our girls make poor decisions. What we wanted to do is show them there is another choice you can make."
Renee Kearse, a teacher at Hillcrest Elementary School, said the idea for the club originated from Doug Brown, media specialist for Peekskill schools.
"It took a young man to see the need and bring it to the forefront," Kearse said. "Mr. Brown is the one who initiated the idea to these and woman and said ‘hey, what about these girls who are who sitting around and doing nothing on the weekends.’ What do we do for them?"
Kearse said many of the students simply need help finding positive activities that will help them grow.
"Unfortunately, the children don’t know what is available," Kearse said. "They look to their mothers, they look to their grandmothers. But they don’t know that there are other accomplished women that are standing right next to them in their schools and communities that they can turn to for advice."