OZONE PARK, N. Y. - "Kiaran's Kids," a youth mentoring and outreach program at Belmont Park hosted by trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, is entering its sixth year on the New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) circuit. The afterschool mentoring program partners with Gateway Youth Outreach, Inc. (GYO) of Elmont, N.Y. by giving 15 students a behind-the-scenes look at what takes place at a race track. Participating students range from first to sixth-graders and visit McLaughlin's barn at Belmont Park every other week for two hours after school.
GYO is a community- based organization that has served the Long Island community for more than 30 years through recreational and enrichment activities targeting at-risk adolescents.
"The kids are amazed when they see everything that goes into thoroughbred horseracing - from learning what the horse chiropractor does to watching a horseshoeing demonstration," said Pat Boyle, the executive director of GYO for more than 25 years. "The cooperation that we receive from NYRA is amazing; everyone that we meet welcomes us and is excited to show the kids what they do."
"Kiaran's Kids" began in 2008 when GYO partnered with NYRA and McLaughlin in a pilot program to "adopt a horse" that students visited and helped care for during the school year. The program blossomed when McLaughlin, a mainstay on the NYRA circuit who trained Jazil, winner of the 2006 Belmont Stakes, suggested that the kids visit on a more regular basis to learn about all of the jobs that take place at the track.
"This wouldn't have been possible without the generosity of Kiaran by sponsoring this program and letting his staff assist us," said Boyle.
Art Magnuson, McLaughlin's assistant trainer, and office manager Cate Masterson not only show the students the daily barn routine, they also set up visits with other departments both at Belmont Park and Aqueduct Racetrack.
"Kiaran's Kids" have visited the race stewards, the Horse Identification office, the track announcer and the jockey's room.
"For Kiaran, Cate and me, it's been very rewarding. The kids are always so excited and our doors are always open to them," said Magnuson.
Earlier this month, the students visited NYRA racing analysts and handicappers Andy Serling and Jason Blewitt during their show, "Talking Horses," to learn how a live sports show is produced.
"Jason and I look forward to seeing Kiaran's Kids every year," said Serling. "Their eagerness to learn, as evidenced by their many questions and overall exuberance, is infectious."
The group also had the opportunity to tape a video clip that aired on "Aqueduct in 30" on the MSG+ network.
"There is something really special about watching their eyes light up when they're sitting in front of the camera and under the lights," said Blewitt.
For more information: Gateway Youth Outreach, Inc., 534 Elmont Rd, Elmont, NY 11003, (516) 328-1550
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