A $500,000 gift from Oprah Winfrey is ensuring a Newark, New Jersey, high school program that opens its doors several nights a week to give students a place to go and be safe can operate during the summer.
The donation will support the “Lights On” program at West Side High School, started by Principal Akbar Cook to allow students a safe space to meet up on Friday nights until 11 p.m. This summer, the program, which offers basketball, video games, pool, and cheerleading practice, will extend to three nights, according to WPVI.
The media mogul stopped by the school on Friday and surprised Cook and about 400 students with her generous gift. She also brought pizza from her “O, That’s Good!” line and handed out Shop Rite gift cards to the students.
“That’s a half a million dollars to encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing because what you’re doing is moving in the right direction,” Winfrey said in a video that Cook posted on Instagram, according to CNN. “I saw what your great principal was doing, and I thought, what can I do?”
“So I heard about West Side and all the great things that are happening here,” Winfrey said to the group, adding: “So I’m going to leave here tonight and leave you with a half a million dollars,” to cheers from the students.
Winfrey learned about the program after watching a report by Jeff Glor on “CBS Evening News.” The report explained how Cook wanted to create an environment for students to be successful, which for him also meant adding a laundry room for students to wash their clothes. Cook told Glor that some students were absent from school because of bullying due to wearing dirty clothes.
“I think we really put the microscope on basic needs of kids. Everyone wants the high test scores, everyone wants them to perform well. But if the kid doesn’t feel confident in just coming to school, being that person we know they can be, then what are we doing,” Cook said in the interview with Glor.
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