POUGHKEEPSIE - There is something magical about age 11; just ask Macallan Durkin. After all, it was at this pre-teen milestone that the 2013 Spackenkill High School graduate started her non-profit, Goody Goodies. It’s also the age when another area youth, Brigitte Berman, drafted a book on bullying.
"Age 11 just seems like a good age to really do things," said Durkin. "I don’t know what it is about that age, but you see it all the time."
You certainly saw it Sunday afternoon at the Grandview, as hundreds gathered for the first annual Sweet 16 Awards Celebration. In many ways the event has been around a decade in the making. From ages eight to 11 Durkin resided in Botswana, Africa. Here, while pursuing her animal passion and raising a warthog and ostrich, she witnessed homeless children digging in garbage cans for food. She was heartbroken accepting the notion people had to live that way. Incited to action, she made it her "job" to provide them with food out of her own grocery bags. The positive impact was immediate.
"When I moved back to the United States, I wanted to do something here to make a difference as well, pointed out Durkin.
It wasn’t long before the artistically talented Durkin drew animals and placed their images on tee-shirts. With the help of her mother, she also created other unique products to be sold at their Fair Trade store. Once again, the results were magical and a child’s non-profit, Goody Goodies was born. The organization’s funds have paid the way for a girl’s education in Zimbabwe, opened the doors of a soup kitchen in Malawi, funded a library in Madagascar, as well as paid for art supplies for youth in Guatemala.
However, Durkin was just getting started. Due to her far-reaching impacts, she was invited to summits/ conferences, helping her sharpen her focus even more. After meeting youth with a similar altruistic passion, she was incited to branch out farther.
"I was inspired to bring something here to the Hudson Valley; I really wanted to help bring out people’s potential because there is so much there," explained a smiling Durkin, clad in a formal gown. "I’m hoping by honoring these 16 girls with these awards today it will inspire them and others to do even more."
Enter the Sweet 16 concept. Macallan, along with her mother, Cecilia, set out to locate exceptional young area role models. From Kingston to Yonkers, they had guidance counselors and others nominate young woman who were not only good, involved students, but "good" people. Thirty nominations came in before the field was scored, and 16 finalists emerged. Spanning several counties, those 16 included young woman ages 13-18. Each was honored by Senator Terry Gibson, when he did a Proclamation at the Senate last week. Additionally, Assemblywoman, Didi Barrett, offered citations to the group, during Saturday’s event.
"You are about the leadership of the Hudson Valley, New York State, and the United States; this is what our nation needs: smart, thoughtful, caring girls who can make a change by being involved," said Barrett, the first woman ever elected for the New York State Assembly. "I hope you all walk away today feeling empowered; today is a great example of what girl power can do."
In fact, a group donning that name, Newburgh Girl Power, was among the Grandview crowd. Composed of girls, ages nine-12, it aims to help foster self-esteem, as well as allow girls to realize their potential as role models.
"A place to share and not be judged," said one member. Another explained it as, "a place where we can realize we can do anything." A third added, "Sisterhood."
The group, newly formed in January, 2013, was yet another mark of evidence of the youth potential Durkin is convinced inhabits our area. Further signs could be detected throughout the Grandview. Whether it was one of the many girls singing or dancing during the Talented Performers part of the program, young authors signing books, or girls assisting at the Free Trade booths, Durkin’s vision to "Be the change you want to see in the world" is becoming a reality.