Manhasset Secondary School senior Neyda Villabos recently received the Katie Oppo Research Fund Award. And now, her connection to Katie Oppo and her goal of going to college has come full circle.
Villabos has been involved in Adventures in Learning since she was in kindergarten both as a student, volunteer and today as a part-time worker. Adventures in Learning is an after-school program that was started by the Congregational Church in the 1960s to help young students with their homework and projects.
“When I was here, I benefited a lot from the program,” said Villabos. “I got a lot of help in many aspects besides academics. I was helped with my family and things like that. I just wanted to make sure the same thing would keep going. I decided to come back and just help kids get the same type of help and benefits as I did as a student.”
Villabos first met Oppo here, when she was a young student looking for guidance and Oppo was a young volunteer.
“[Katie] was a lovely young lady, very sweet and very kind and gentle,” said Diana Holden, the executive director of Adventures in Leaning for the last 19 years. “She came in and she volunteered with the children. She was very loving to Neyda and that is how that whole relationship began.”
Oppo passed away in April 2011 from ovarian cancer, in what would have been her sophomore year at Johns Hopkins. The Katie Oppo Research Fund was created by her family to increase research and awareness for ovarian cancer.
“I remember she was a really nice person,” said Villabos, who plans on attending John Jay College in the fall. “She was always be happy to work with any child. She was also busy herself, but it was also nice she had time to come here.”
Villabos will be the first in her family to go to college and at John Jay she plans to study criminology to become a criminal profiler. She started volunteering at Adventures in Learning in the seventh grade and became a part-time employee in 10th grade.
“I kind of connect with them in a way. I was in their shoes once and there is a higher level of connection than if I had not been a student here. It’s just easy for me to help them, understand them, their point of view and how they act,” Villabos told the Manhasset Press.
Villabos plans to put the $500 that comes from winning the award toward her tuition for college.
“I expect Neyda will be whatever she wants to be,” said Holden. “Whatever she does, she will do it well. I think she will be the kind of person who will give back because she understands the value of helping others as she does every day here in our program. She has come full circle.”