Girls of all ages at Saratoga took a break from their mid-winter recess dance practices, gymnastics lessons, and LEGO team preparations for a special giveaway party planned and facilitated by staff at OMG Accessories, an NYC-based line of pink unicorn-themed bags and accessories. The giveaway was planned for mid-February to coincide with Valentine’s Day season.

“This event is about how we get to spend time with each other,” explained Iliana, 10, a student at Saratoga K-12 Afterschool & Recreation. “We empower each other and we’re all spending time doing good things together as girls.”

In the lead-up to the OMG Accessories giveaway, Iliana and her friends Aurora and Angelica, also 10, discussed what to expect from the day’s festivities, including what to expect from Director Michael Chapman, who heads Saratoga’s K-12 programming.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he made me sing at this event,” said Aurora, a talented singer, whom Chapman has encouraged to perform at other events at Saratoga, including the Bass Art Show. She also performs alongside Iliana and Angelica in an after-school girl group called The Diamonds, for which Chapman doubles as band manager.

“He always makes us talk,” said Angelica, who just that morning had been persuaded by Chapman to present on the Saratoga Lego Team’s vertical farm project.

For Chapman, nurturing students’ expression, creativity, talents and confidence is at the heart of afterschool. He recently instituted a Student-in-Training (SIT) program, intended to foster leadership skills in participants by assigning them responsibilities for tasks related to programming. Insistent as he is that the students express themselves, Chapman is also highly receptive of their input and opinions.

“We’re growing our kids to really learn and articulate certain things,” said Chapman, who noted that the OMG Accessories giveaway serendipitously coincided with a call for suggestions he’d made to older students at Saratoga. “So, we discovered what our older kids, these sixth, seventh, and eighth-graders would like to see in programming. Coincidentally, among the things they mentioned was that they wanted to be pampered. They said that they would love to get their nails done or get their hair done. Any experience just to sort of make them feel special. So, the OMG event came at the perfect timing to really make them feel special.”

Self-care has become a hot topic at HFH Family Residences as of late, with Williamsbridge Family Services hosting a Celebrate Your Greatness event for parents featuring manicures, makeovers, and interview workshops. Saratoga itself is no stranger to events meant to celebrate families, always with an emphasis on children’s self-expression. In the past year alone, students have strutted their stuff along a makeshift runway, danced their hearts out at a family talent show, and published their own monthly newsletter filled with program highlights and student interviews.

However, last week’s event with OMG Accessories offered girls at Saratoga a different brand of fun — namely, pink glittery duffel bags overflowing with unicorn-plastered mini-backpacks, pillows, makeup cases, sleeping masks, and more.

“I always had a dream when I was a little girl to start my own accessories company and start my own business,” said Anne Harper, Founder & CEO of OMG Accessories, who was on hand during the giveaway to speak with the girls and facilitate the event “I finally got the courage to do that and I really wanted to focus on girls, young girls, and creating things that are glittery, sparkly – things that could really bring joy and happiness into girls’ lives.”

Harper and staff from OMG Accessories brought along coloring sheets (and pizza) for the girls at Saratoga to complete as they set up for the big giveaway. Then, as groups of girls were called up by age to receive their duffel bags, the girls’ elation quickly bubbled over while they unpacked their new unicorn-themed accessories.

“I love unicorns! It has a unicorn bag, a unicorn pillow, and a unicorn purse!” exclaimed Kadiatou, 8. “So, now I can put makeup inside my unicorn purse!”

“I always wanted a tiny bag, but my mom never got me one,” said Destiny, also 8. “And now I have one! And it’s a unicorn!”

Mariama, 5, radiated with excitement— “I love unicorns! I love unicorns! That’s why you got us one!”

The big kids weren’t immune to the mood either, snapping pictures of one another showing off their new accessories and chatting with Harper about her company.

As the event winded down, students and staff alike expressed their appreciation to the staff at OMG Accessories for an incredible event.

“They [students] love when volunteers come in and give back and make them feel special,” said Tierra Gunther, Partnerships Associate for HFH. “It’s an opportunity for them to just be a kid, and they’ll remember it. Give them memories. We don’t always have the clients for years, but if we can give them a memory that they can keep forever, that’s what it’s all about.”

Another staff member, who heads a popular dance team for girls at Saratoga, expressed her gratitude to OMG Accessories for the donations, pointing out that the team would now have bags to accompany their matching jackets as they travel to competitions.

However, the sweetest moment of the day came when Mr. Chapman, as predicted by Iliana, Aurora, and Angelica, once again turned the spotlight on the students. Looking towards the older girls’ table, he requested a representative to express the Saratoga Eagles’ gratitude towards the team at OMG Accessories.

That day, though she wasn’t called upon to sing, Aurora volunteered to take the microphone, clearly well-versed in public speaking from her prior performances. “On behalf of Brownstone or Future Link,” she said, referring to names for Saratoga’s after-school program. “We thank you very much for your time and for making these bags for us. We can tell you put a lot of effort into it and you can see it in every single shimmer and every single shine.”

“Everyone here appreciates you very much and all that you do,” she concluded.

As the younger students reinforced their gratitude by gifting the OMG Accessories team the coloring pages they’d completed, one student, inspired by her older peer and prompted by Mr. Chapman, stepped up to the plate to express her own gratitude.

“I would like to thank the OMG Company for making these bags,” she said, showing off her new accessories. “They are beautiful, they are shimmering, they are shiny, and most importantly, they all say love.”

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