When basketball forward Rebecca Osei-Owusu graduated from high school last week, she did so with a sense of pride and positive outlook, knowing that her future includes joining the Division I basketball program at Fairleigh Dickinson University. A member of the Riverside Hawks since seventh grade, Osei-Owusu credits that program not only with building her skills and confidence, but also helping her be well-prepared to be a college student.

Founded in 1961, the Riverside Hawks program is based at Riverside Church and works with about 350 students annually, ages 5 to 18. It provides a mix of athletic instruction, academic support, and opportunity for community service.

“Having trainers to help me every day…brought me to the next level,” said Osei-Owusu. “They would tell me what time to be in the gym to work on my shot or handles or anything else to add to my game. Being there really prepared me. That’s literally my second home.”

Osei-Owusu looks forward to playing for FDU’s new head coach, Stephanie Gaitley. She said the Riverside Hawks didn’t only hone her basketball skills, but helped her embrace teamwork, communication, and a family mindset. “I’d put everything on the floor and my coaches would encourage my dreams and aspirations,” Osei-Owusu said.

“Every year they do what they call an NCAA seminar,” she continued. “They’re talking about NCAA rules and eligibility. Even before coming into high school, I’d learn about eligibility and keeping my grades up.”

Dr. Emily Anderson, a former professor in the CUNY system, is secretary of the board of directors of the Riverside Hawks and chair of the education and scholarship committee. “It’s been interesting how the program has evolved,” said Anderson. “When it started in the ’60s, it was basically a basketball program for kids in Harlem. The people involved wanted them to be elite basketball players.

“As we began to look at the needs of the community over time…we wanted to expand the program, so we’re focusing on academics, basketball, and community,” she added. “Rebecca is a wonderful young woman…She graduated from Monsignor Scanlan High School (in the Bronx). Colleges were able to see what she could do. She attended those workshops about what it takes to get into college.”

An aspiring journalist, Osei-Owusu attended this year’s WNBA Draft. “It was a dream come true. I was looking at everybody and thinking how tall they are, especially Aliyah Boston,” she said.

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