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Gift Aims To Open College Door for Kindergartners

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The State University of New York at Stony Brook is a mere 65 miles from the Washington Heights section of New York City. But to most children in the tough neighborhood, the tree-lined campus would seem light years away.

This week, a $500,000 gift from one of Washington Heights' native sons will bring the two worlds closer.

Thirty students at the neighborhood's Public School 132 who finish kindergarten this spring--and in springs to come--will be guaranteed full-tuition scholarships if they are accepted at the university when they finish high school.

Their benefactor is Dennis Mehiel, the president of Four M Corp., a Valhalla, N.Y.-based manufacturer of corrugated boxes, who grew up in the neighborhood in the 1940s. He planned to unveil the program, called "All the Way," at a ceremony early this week.

Part of the donation will help ensure that the students receive the help they'll need to get through high school and into college. The program will provide them with after-school and summer programs, mentoring by SUNY students, and other services throughout elementary school.

"What we had to do was catch kids early when there was an opportunity to impact where they're going to be by the time they're in 6th or 7th grade," said Mr. Mehiel, who attended a Washington Heights school that has since been razed.

'More Meaningful'

Next year, the program plans to offer another 30 kindergartners at PS 132 the same guarantee.

Mr. Mehiel said he has no plans to end the program after a specified number of years, and the university plans to raise additional money for the scholarships.

"I think the payout will be tremendous," said Shirley Strum Kenny, the president of SUNY Stony Brook

Erick Irizarry, the principal at PS 132, said most of his 1,500 students are Hispanic, and 94 percent of the student body is eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. He praised Mr. Mehiel's kindness.

"It's much more meaningful because he's from Washington Heights," Mr. Irizarry said "He comes from humble beginnings and became a success."

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