When 8-year-old Dan Singleton stepped off the bus to enter the Staten Island Goodhue Community Center, he felt like he was in a different world.
At the center, which he attend after school and summers until college, he explored the camp grounds and learned how to cook in a fire pit, played on his first baseball and basketball teams, learned how to swim, went boating, and used a computer for the first time.
“I’m talking about this place like it’s so far away from where I lived,” he said. “It was walking distance.”
Dan grew up in the West Brighton section of Staten Island. His parents divorced when he was young, and his mother worked three jobs to support Dan and his brother. She brought him to the Goodhue Center because she knew staff there would provide a safe place for him to learn and grow.
“I used to live on Jersey Street – it was during the crack epidemic,” he said. “I remember being around a lot of drugs, a lot of nonsense outside. When I played basketball or football on the street we had to be careful. There were cars coming, then you had to watch for the teenagers outside, or somebody would hear gunshots.”
But at Goodhue, he had the opposite experience. Ilene Pappert, the center’s director for 32 years, greeted him as he got off the bus every day and made sure he was doing his homework. Upstairs, he visited the kitchen, where he learned how to cook and use a stove. He was free to experiment and explore in a safe environment.
In high school, he became a camp counselor to mentor the younger generation of Goodhue kids.
“No matter what it was like on my block, I knew that I was going somewhere that was safe and secure,” he said. “I knew I was going to a place where I didn’t have to worry about being hurt. When you’re not worried about things that are dangerous, you can get into things that interest you.”
What interested Dan was the game of basketball. He still remembers putting on his orange Goodhue T-shirt to play in the center’s gym. Even when he wasn’t scheduled to have gym time, he would convince Ilene to let him play.
He learned the importance of teamwork while wearing the colors of his favorite basketball team – the New York Knicks. Dan’s experience at Goodhue led him to earning a scholarship to play basketball at Southern Connecticut State University.
“Goodhue was the first place I ever put on a basketball uniform and played in a real game with referees,” he said. “It put an idea in my head that there was more in the world for me to see.”
Dan is now the principal at P.S. 31 on Staten Island, an elementary school within walking distance of the Goodhue Community Center. As a leader in charge of the wellbeing of hundreds of young people, he knows what they need to succeed.
“It prepared me to understand what kids need,” he said. “Now that I’m a principal and I’m an adult, I understand the importance of creating an environment where they can feel free, they can feel safe, and they can let their hair down and explore.”