Meet CFL Program Director Omar Roberts

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OST @ PS 971 Program Director Omar Roberts (right) has been involved in CFL since attending summer camp at age six.

Omar Roberts was six years old when he first came to SCO’s Center for Family Life as a camper at the Beacon at PS 503/506, which was formerly PS 314. It was an auspicious start: Over the next nearly three decades, the Sunset Park-based program became a huge part of his life – and Roberts became a significant part of CFL as he followed a path from camper to counselor, group leader, program supervisor – eventually becoming Director of the PS 971 Out-of-School Time (OST) program, overseeing one of the same summer and after-school programs that were his first introduction to CFL.

“I get to come in every day to do the work I love with the people I love most,“ Roberts said in early July as camp got underway at the Beacon Center in PS 503/506. The love is clearly mutual. All around him, young campers shouted “Omar!”  when they saw him. “I get to serve my own community, give back to the neighborhood and the people I grew up with. What other job gives you that?”

By the time he was old enough to begin working as a Counselor-in-Training (CIT), Roberts knew he wanted to pursue a career in social work. After graduating high school, he was hired as a group leader and spent eight years working at CFL’s “Life Lines” Community Arts Project while pursuing his BA in Social Work. Life Lines is a nationally recognized arts and leadership program serving 700 youth, ages 10-21, including an after-school arts program and summer camp, traveling theatre/dance troupes, internships and original productions.

DSC_0196He then took a new position with CFL’s Youth Employment Program (YEP) and began pursuing a Master’s Degree in Social Work.  Developing a self-sustaining pool of talent within the Sunset Park neighborhood is a critical element of CFL’s overall strategy.  “There are 100 other people like me,” Roberts said of his own trajectory.  “We promote from within and emphasize opportunities for our volunteers and current staff to move up the organizational ladder to leadership positions.” Roberts estimated that roughly 85 percent of CFL staff members started as participants in its programs. “CFL helps a lot of people. It encourages those same people to pay it forward to the community.”

After working with high school aged youth in YEP for two years, Roberts returned to PS 503/506 as Beacon Program Supervisor at the school-based community center; he was subsequently promoted to Director of the Out of School Time after-school and summer program at PS 971, which relocates to the PS 503/506 site during the summer.

DSC_0200Having lived in the neighborhood for 35 years, Roberts has seen firsthand how CFL’s youth and community programs have changed Sunset Park for the better, providing local young people with  employment, volunteering and recreation. “CFL offered opportunities to youth who believed they had no other options,” Roberts explained.  He expressed feeling great pride in being a Latino Program Director working at CFL. “We have a lot of talented people in this community who could take on a leadership role,” he said. “It’s like a patch of honor, as a member of this neighborhood, to take this on. It helps me bring a different perspective. I can easily identify with a lot of the staff because I was born and raised in this community. We have a connection because I can identify with them as much as they can identify with me.”

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