OCRA Initiatives Receive Grant Funding

The Original Civics Research and Action program uses grant money to benefit the larger community.

OCRA Students tackle their projects to encourage positive change in the community.

Photo Courtesy of @MamaroneckPublicSchools on Facebook

OCRA Students tackle their projects to encourage positive change in the community.

Anatoli Velikov, Spotlight Page Editor

This year, among the many grant recipients were three initiatives from Mamaroneck High School’s Original Civic Research and Action (OCRA) Program.
One of these initiatives is the Wage Theft Prevention Initiative led by Léa Barry-Thouez (‘23), Benjamin Kulish (‘23), and Jack Master (‘23). Their project is working to combat wage theft, which occurs when an employer doesn’t pay their employees the amount they are legally owed. This can come in the form of failure to pay minimum wage, overtime pay, and/or tips given to a server. Many students at Mamaroneck High School have experienced wage theft in some form or have a family member that has faced it. In recent years wage theft in the Larchmont-Mamaroneck area has been rampant and is growing, with a prevalent discrepancy in workers that brought their cases to court. Low-income and/or undocumented workers have been less likely to take their cases to court in fear of retaliation their employers. In 2020, wage theft cases were backed-up, leaving victims to put their cases on hold until COVID-19 conditions improved, making this initiative especially current. As relief comes now, it is a great time for workers to bring their cases to court.
The group is aware that many people facing wage theft are undocumented immigrants who may be afraid to publicize their cases, but they are protected by New York State labor laws. Therefore, while the group is still at the beginning of its outreach and has many things in development, member Kulish explains how they are, “focused currently on ensuring that undocumented workers are aware of their rights and feel comfortable bringing their cases to the Department of Labor.” The group hopes that as the year progresses, the reporting of wage theft will increase in Mamaroneck.
The initiative will use the grant to pay for a variety of aspects of the project. This includes lawn signs that they hope to put in public places throughout Mamaroneck and an especially large, “eye-catching” sign. The group will also create “ethical business” stickers for local businesses’ storefront windows to show that they are paying their workers fairly. The project goes far beyond the grant but the group conveys that, “it will be a huge part of how we spread the word in the community.”
Alongside this project, the Increasing Community Book Access initiative also received a grant from the foundation. The initiative is led by Luca Giobbio (‘23), Eli Tannenbaum (‘23), and Griffin McIntyre (‘23) and aims to place small libraries within lower-income communities to help underprivileged students. Currently, there is an immense lack of access to books in lower income parts of our communities, where there may be as little as one age-appropriate book for every 300 children in a community. Causal factors behind this include residential and income segregation, wherein families facing these challenges are statistically less likely to find a bookstore or library in their neighborhood. These families also have a lower likelihood of utilizing public libraries, whether the families aren’t accustomed to using them, concerned with being charged with late fines, or because of uncertainty in putting names on a card that is associated with a government entity.
Throughout the United States, children suffer from what is referred to as the “Summer Slide,” in which the reading levels of some students decrease drastically over the summer; meaning that students start their new school year as much as a whole year of reading behind.The group has conducted extensive research, which, project member Luca Giobbio, imparts, “indicated that children with a lack of access to books suffer most from the summer slide.” Thus, the project hopes that the steady access to books provided by the libraries they create will help students, who are particularly behind in some of their literacy skills, improve and develop their reading skills; giving them a better chance of success in school and helping them meet their peers in terms of literacy skills. The group outlines that, “the grant that we graciously received from the Mamaroneck Schools Foundation will be used for the construction of our little library,” which will build upon the presence of small libraries throughout Mamaroneck.
The third OCRA project to receive a grant is the Backyard Dinner and a Movie Nights initiative, led by Charles Dirs (‘23), Church Moore (‘23), and Kyle Rozanes (‘23). The group seeks to help local eateries and citizens by providing a movie service as an incentive for people to donate to a specific charity and order from a local restaurant. The grant from the Foundation will be utilized to provide a higher quality movie service to participants. The project comes at a time when Hurricane Ida left numerous families needing support, and local eateries are experiencing a need for increased business in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, in the Spring, the initiative aims to support Larchmont and Mamaroneck’s Hunger Task Force.
This year’s three OCRA program student grant recipients indicate auspicious opportunities for contributing to the community and helping those in need.