Renel St. Jour – Alumni Honoree 2014 Gala Speech

When I was growing up in Brooklyn, the  last thing I thought I would ever be doing is sitting in a kayak in the Alaskan sea after nearly getting capsized by a whale; But on a Nols trip a few years ago, I was in my kayak when I started seeing ripples coming in my direction  At first as the wave rolled toward me, I just saw this grey thing poking out that looked like a stone. But as it moved closer I realized “O​h snap​!​ That is an actual whale right there.”

Christodora has taken me through incredible journeys over the years. I remember my first day in the NYC program; my friend, Tavion from school had invited me and I was skeptical because it was a two hour commute from where I lived.  That day Andrew (the program director) walked the class through a forest in the Botanical Garden and it was beautiful. I realized that there was so much out there that I had never seen; that I only knew about from books and movies. Growing up in the city I never had the chance to see nature, let alone have a wilderness experience. When I experienced the natural environment, I began to care. Matt the director of Manice visited NYC and told us about White nose syndrome, a disease that was responsible for the death of a lot of bats. He proposed we build bat houses to help the bats. On a trip to Manice, Matt and I got to install the bat boxes.  I felt really empowered by being informed about a problem and playing an active role in the solution.  I became a better student because there were questions I wanted answers to. I had never been in a position to step up before and never really valued my own opinion but with Christodora, I  realized that I could speak up and take charge. The experiences I gained over the years from Christodora gave me the confidence and encouragement that drove me to further in my education and made me a leader. I now study at Brooklyn College and I am a group Leader for an after-school program in my community.

This year I returned to Manice for the summer as an outdoor educator assistant, and saw the bat houses that my friends and I built a few years ago, I realized that Christodora, in a way has been my bat house, a safe place where I came to grow and spend time with people who were like family.

I’d like to thank my parents and brothers for supporting me and encouraging me to take advantage of the wonderful programs Christodora offered me. I would also like to thank all the dedicated staff members of Christodora.

I’d also like to give special thanks those sitting in the audience tonight, for giving me a second home. I think it’s amazing how much can be done when people come together to make a difference, I understand that very well being one of the many products of your efforts, contributions and support to this amazing organization. Thank you, have a good evening.

Renel Saint Jour