Juliana LoBiondo Recognized for Bringing Diversity to the Hudson River
By Genevieve Carrillo • September 13, 2016
Just 60 miles north of New York City, sitting alongside the Hudson River, is Newburgh, New York, a city bursting with diversity. Pockets of poverty persist in the city, often only blocks away from its many historical and architectural landmarks. Roughly a quarter of the population of the city is below the poverty line. A recent FBI crime study labeled Newburgh more dangerous than 95 percent of the cities in America.
But on the waters of the Hudson, there is no line between the poor and wealthy. Instead, bonds are built and walls are broken down inside a rowing boat, thanks to one woman who sensed the need for opportunity.
Juliana LoBiondo, who is better known as Mrs. Lo to everyone in Newburgh, was not raised within rowing but has brought the sport to a level of accessibility previously unheard of in New York.
“The city of Newburgh is a very poor city, but it’s a very vibrant and diverse city on the Hudson river,” said Mrs. Lo. However, she had noticed that the diversity of the population was not well represented at Newburgh Rowing Club, where her son began rowing. The primary reason for this, according to NRC head coach Kennedy, was that most adults who were interested in rowing could not swim, and it was difficult to teach them how to swim as adults.
Children from minority backgrounds including Hispanic and African American are 40 percent more likely to die from drowning than a non-minority child, a problem so widespread, the Center for Disease Control refers to it as an epidemic. Feeling comfortable on the water is essential in rowing, especially on a river like the Hudson.
Mrs. Lo took this as an chance to begin driving interest in rowing and swimming in the city of Newburgh. She aimed to get $10,000 to start the program, wrote a grant, and was given $12,000. With Kennedy teaching swimming for free, and rowing being taught out of the boathouse, America Rows and Swims Newburgh was formed.
A 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, America Rows and Swims Newburgh provides grants for underserved youth in Newburgh to enjoy the sport of rowing at the Newburgh Rowing club and to swim for the Hudson Valley Bluefish after-school swim club; it also holds free water confidence clinics at the Union Avenue Community Fitness Center for children year-round.
For all of her efforts and dedication to making rowing in Newburgh a welcoming and friendly environment to all minorities, Juliana LoBiondo has been named the recipient of the 2016 USRowing Anita DeFrantz Award, which is given to an individual or organization achieving measurable success in expanding diversity opportunities in rowing.
“I can’t believe that even in the smallest way, I could be connected to Anita DeFranz. There really is no higher honor, ” said Mrs. Lo. “I would say it’s like winning an Oscar, but it’s actually better, because this is someone who broke the barriers and set the standard for everyone.”
On the water, not only are physical skills instilled in the youth of Newburgh, life skills are also highly valued. The local high school sits at roughly a 60 percent graduation rate, a statistic Mrs. Lo is doing her part to change.
“We have a 100 percent graduation rate, and we have our students sign contracts to agree to help with community service and keep their grades up,” she said.
The average grade for students involved with the club is at 95 percent, and many students have been accepted to prestigious boarding schools on scholarship, a testament to the time and care Mrs. Lo puts into her students.
“A rowing club is a perfect place to introduce diversity to youngsters and families,” said Mrs. Lo. “Rowing is about family, it’s about trust, and it’s about loyalty, more than any other team sport in my opinion. When you introduce diversity into a boathouse or a community rowing club, when you introduce diversity into a boat, more so than in any other sport, you’re not just establishing ‘oh, here’s someone who’s going to be a quarterback,’ you are putting a family together.”
The impact that rowing has had is apparent. According to Mrs. Lo, there was once a community meeting where someone stood up and asked, “why are you guys [the town], supporting rowing. Don’t you know rowing is a white sport?” and everyone jumped in to testify that rowing is for everyone.
“People in this town no longer view rowing as an elite sport, something that their kids can’t do,” said Mrs. Lo.
Information on the Golden Oars Awards Dinner, ticket information and sponsorship opportunities may be found at http://www.501auctions.com/GoldenOars2016.