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Another Successful gala for Figure Skating in Harlem

LOIS ELFMAN Special to the AmNews | 4/11/2013, 3:58 p.m.

"We've grown a lot in the last couple of years," said Figure Skating in Harlem (FSH) founder and Executive Director Sharon Cohen. The program for girls ages 6 to 18 that combines skating lessons with extensive off-ice opportunities, including tutoring; counseling; classes in history, theory, public speaking, nutrition and finance; and opportunities to experience things like business and government, now serves over 225 girls a year. The program also offers I Can Excel during the school year, the Summer Dreams program and some summer scholarships for skating camps.

"Growing up in Figure Skating in Harlem helped shape me into who I've become," said Jiordan Ali, one of five high school seniors for whom the Skating with the Stars gala at Wollman Rink in Central Park on Monday night was a farewell. "FSH has opened doors for me."

In the fall, Ali, who attends Thurgood Marshall Academy for Learning and Social Change, will attend Penn State University, where she will study criminal justice.

Fellow senior Kayla Stewart, who has been part of FSH for 11 years, said it will be a big adjustment not having the support system around her. "When I first started Figure Skating in Harlem, I used to cry every day because I was so attached to my mom and I didn't want her to leave me," said Stewart, who will graduate from Harlem Village Academy High School this spring. "Along the way, FSH has helped me with my confidence so much."

Lisha Epperson expects her 10-year-old daughter Ila, who's been in FSH for four years, to remain with the program until she graduates high school. "The community that has been created around the program is what she's really attached to," said Epperson. "They're being propelled into the future with such a strong foundation."

At Monday night's gala, which was attended by Olympic figure skaters, celebrities, corporate executives and fans, FSH honored veteran sports broadcaster Andrea Joyce and fashion designer b Michael, both supporters of the organization. High school junior Zjana Ray, who has been part of FSH since third grade, said being in the program has influenced how she approaches school.

"I have a high standard for myself," said Ray, who skates on one of FSH's three competitive synchronized skating teams. It has also taught her how to pay it forward, as she mentors the younger girls who join the program.