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NYer of the Week: Penny Shaw Makes Saturdays Special for Hundreds of Young People

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This week's New Yorker spends her days making Saturdays special for hundreds of young people and the volunteers who help them. NY1's John Schiumo filed the following report, which was shot, written and edited by Rachel Smith.

Swimming, Frisbee and basketball. It's just some of what goes on every Saturday at the Brookdale Campus of Hunter College, where nearly 300 volunteers and participants come together for Project Happy, an all-day sports and recreation program designed specifically for young New Yorkers with disabilities.

Keeping track of every class, volunteer and participant is Penny Shaw, Project Happy's longtime director. A former Hunter professor, Penny started the program in 1981. Now, at 76 years old, she still has plenty of energy for what she calls her "labor of love."

"I put my heart and soul into it," she says. "I think about it a lot. I wake up in the middle of the night with an idea, how to improve."

That drive has built a program that started with just 10 children into a bustling and beloved institution where Penny knows everyone's name and where everyone is supposed to be.

"This is the mini-schedule. The groups are on this side, the activities are on this side, and I keep it in my back pocket," Shaw says. "If an ABC child arrives late and the mother says, 'Where should I take them?' I pull it out and I say, 'OK, ABC3 is now swimming, so let's hurry up and get there.'"

For all of Penny's energies, it's an army of volunteers and staff who make all that splashing and stretching happen every Saturday. Many of them return every week because of Penny's leadership.

"When I decide to grow up, I hope to be as amazing as she is," says Natalie Palmer, an aquatics instructor with Project H.A.P.P.Y. "It's not just running a program, It's all the behind-the-scenes small things that she does. She bakes cookies for the security guards. She lets them know they're appreciated"

"I'm so inspired by Penny that I just, there's just no better place for me to be on Saturdays," says Brad Keller, a volunteer with Project H.A.P.P.Y.

So, for bringing happiness to a community of people week after week, Penny Shaw is the latest New Yorker of the Week.


For more information about Project Happy, visit their website at

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