Book Club Addresses Cultural Differences

Written by Madalyn Alfonso
Published in the New Paltz Oracle

A town-wide book club full of members of a variety of ages, backgrounds and ideologies may seem like a big idea, but with One Book One New Paltz, that idea comes to life every year.

As a diverse crowd shuffled into Lecture Center 100 on Monday, Oct. 2, author Imbolo Mbue, a native of Limbe, Cameroon and current New York City resident, prepared to speak about her debut novel, Behold the Dreamers in the first event of One Book One New Paltz (OBONP) this year. Faculty, students and fans of the novel settled in to hear Mbue read an excerpt and talk about her process.

“Mbue is a very honest writer,” said sophomore psychology major Ashley Rodriguez. “She spoke so openly about her personal life. I found the event very interesting and made a lot of connections with her personal life to mine.”

Behold the Dreamers is about an immigrant family from Cameroon trying to get by in America by working for a rich, white family in New York City. The book explores the ideas of class, race, immigration, family and the disillusionment of the American Dream.

Charlene V. Martoni, committee member of OBONP and the conversation moderator began the evening by introducing Mbue and her book, explaining the praise it has received in recent news publications, such as being chosen for Oprah’s book club, and then giving Mbue the floor to kickstart the four-day long series of programs.

“I was driven by inspiration,” Mbue said. “I was very observant of the class differences in New York City, and I did a lot of research. This book is a love song to many places for me; Cameroon, America, Harlem, and writing this book was a way of going home.”

One Book One New Paltz is a project that began in 2005 and was founded by Dr. Gerald Benjamin, Director of the Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz, to promote reading as a way of connecting people in the College and neighborhood. Every year, the committee chooses a book that becomes the “community read,” which is meant to encourage people of all backgrounds to participate in and celebrate their community by having a shared reading experience.

Behold the Dreamers was chosen because it fits the criteria the committee uses in their selection process. The chosen book needs to incorporate many different issues that can open a conversation that is accessible to various groups of people. Mbue’s goal for the book was to focus on empathy and challenge people to think of their world differently and consider other perspectives.

“Everyone deserves empathy, even if we disagree,” Mbue said. “It was hard for me to empathize with rich white people for this book, but I needed to develop empathy for these characters, even if I didn’t understand the struggle of the one percent. I wanted to connect two drastically different worlds.”

Martoni interviewed Mbue and audience members were also invited to participate in the Q&A. Mbue spoke on her inspirations, her struggles in immigration and understanding America and where she hopes to head next from here.

“I dreamt that America was full of rich people and that everyone had a wonderful life. Coming to America I realized how rough it actually is.” she said. “While America is a wonderful country, it has many issues and flaws, and it is not wonderful for everyone.”

The final event of One Book One New Paltz 2017 will take place on Oct. 5 at 7 p.m. in the Elting Memorial Library in the Village of New Paltz, with the book discussion and wrap-up. Behold the Dreamers can be purchased as a paperback in local book stores Barner Books and Inquiring Minds Bookstore for $14.50.


2017 T.E.A.L. Walk

Fundraiser and walk participant since 2015.

Tell Every Amazing Lady About Ovarian Cancer, Louisa M. McGregor Ovarian Cancer Foundation also known as T.E.A.L.®’s mission is to promote public awareness and education of the signs, symptoms and risk factors of Ovarian Cancer, while providing support to survivors and raising funds for research in order to find the cure for Ovarian Cancer.

New Paltz communally reads $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America

Written by Frances Marion Platt
Published in the New Paltz Times

(Photo by Lauren Thomas)
Photo by Lauren Thomas. Committee members from left to right: Darlene Davis, Sue Books, Charlene V. Martoni, Myra Sorin, Shelly Sherman, and Linda Welles.

One Book/One New Paltz, the annual joint community reading and discussion experience, returns to town with a week’s worth of activities from November 13 to 20. But this year it’s going to be a little different: Instead of the usual novel, the book selected by the One Book/One New Paltz Committee is a sobering non-fictional account of the lives of people living in extreme poverty. The 2016 Community Read is titled $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, by Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015).

“It’s such an important, compelling topic,” says Shelley Sherman, a longtime member of the Committee. “And as for programming, it presents so many possibilities.” That a book will “lend itself to programming” is one of the criteria by which a One Book/One New Paltz selection is chosen, Sherman explains, along with being well-written, accessible and not more than about 350 pages in length. The Committee has also looked for a representation of diversity in both topics covered and authors as well.

But it wasn’t simply a matter of One Book being “due” for a nonfiction title this year, says Sherman. The multi-tiered selection process starts each year around February, with a list of 50 or 60 titles suggested by Committee members, derived from surveys of attendees at the previous year’s events or added to suggestion boxes placed at the Elting Memorial Library, the Sojourner Truth Library at SUNY-New Paltz and local bookstores. The initial list is weeded down to about 20 semifinalists, then to five or six titles thought to be especially strong. Committee members will then make sure to read the finalists and prepare to “come in with arguments pro or con” at the meeting where the final selection is made.

Certainly the long, slow recovery from the Great Recession and many of the topics in the air during a presidential election year make a book about the poorest of the poor in America a good fit with the current zeitgeist. “You know that saying about how we’re all one paycheck away from poverty? Well, most people are, to some extent,” Sherman notes. She says that the families profiled in the book often start out middle-class, but are struck by one or more turns of ill fortune, such as the catastrophic illness of a breadwinner or the need to take in other relatives who have a disability or an unplanned baby on the way. When the family’s income is nearly nonexistent, efforts to improve their circumstances are often severely limited by such factors as the cost of child care, transportation and other logistical difficulties or simply the inability to afford to buy appropriate clothing for work.

Edin and Shaefer are sociologists who traveled around the country to spend time with 18 families, both urban and rural, to gain a better understanding of how the 1.5 million households living “under the radar” in such extreme poverty, including 3 million children, are able to get by at all. Some manage to get sporadic seasonal work; some collect cans and bottles for deposits; one woman they interviewed periodically sells her blood plasma. They are the legacy of the “welfare-to-work” social services reforms of the 1990s, and America provides no safety net for them beyond food stamps. “The book is not like a college sociology text,” says Sherman. “These are interesting tales of real people.”

$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America can be found at local bookstores (Inquiring Minds and Barner Books, both on Church Street in New Paltz) and at the Elting Library and Sojourner Truth Library, as well as on Kindle. The week of One Book/One New Paltz programming scheduled from November 13 to 20 will include more than a dozen events: presentations on poverty as seen through the lenses of various academic disciplines; book discussions; an open mic night for creative expression; discussions and perspectives on poverty by those experiencing it directly; and a workshop on résumé building and job search. Full program details are available at the One Book/One New Paltz website,

2016 T.E.A.L. Walk

Fundraiser and walk participant since 2015.

Tell Every Amazing Lady About Ovarian Cancer, Louisa M. McGregor Ovarian Cancer Foundation also known as T.E.A.L.®’s mission is to promote public awareness and education of the signs, symptoms and risk factors of Ovarian Cancer, while providing support to survivors and raising funds for research in order to find the cure for Ovarian Cancer.

Orange Is The New Paltz: Miss Rosa Visits New Paltz

Written by Amanda Copkov
Published in the New Paltz Oracle

Having made her great escape from Litchfield Penitentiary, Miss Rosa of “Orange Is the New Black” made a pitstop at SUNY New Paltz.

Actress Barbara Rosenblat, referred to as “the Meryl Streep of audiobooks,” plays the role of Miss Rosa in the critically acclaimed, top-rated Netflix series and came to the College as part of the One Book/One New Paltz (OB/ONP) program. The goals of this program are to foster community, encourage reading and support literacy by making one read accessible to everyone in the community, according to OB/ONP Committee Chair and Webmaster Charlene Martoni.

“The goal is to get people thinking so that they can go forth and make a difference in the world,” she said.

Martoni said she pushed for “Orange Is the New Black” by Piper Kerman to be read among those in the program because of all of the prevalent themes within the book, such as the issues of transgender people and sexual violence in prisons.

“These are issues college students can really make a difference about if they learn about them,” she said.

Martoni said she felt that this novel would be an important read in the community as more of these types of injustices are coming to light in the media.

“It’s important for people to realize that these communities, these institutions, have their own [injustices] going on inside of them,” she said. “The only way that they can be fixed, really, is if people outside of them are aware of them. Because the people inside of these institutions do have rights, but their rights aren’t easy to protect, so they need help from other people.”

During Rosenblat’s Nov. 21 presentation, she held a Q+A session and read an excerpt from “Out of Orange” by Cleary Wolters, the ex-lover of Piper Kerman, whose pseudonym in the “Orange Is the New Black” book is Nora, and who is portrayed in the Netflix series as Alex Vause, played by actress Laura Prepon.

Rosenblat, the narrator for the audiobook version of “Out of Orange” read from “Prologue: Karma,” where Wolters expresses her initial reaction to reading Kerman’s “Orange Is the New Black.”

The author wrote of her first experience watching “Orange Is the New Black” — unbeknownst to her. At first, she admitted, she thought the opening scene of the first episode was a shampoo commercial, nearly ready to turn off the television with her finger on the power button. There was a “soft, tinkling piano” playing in the background and an attractive blonde woman taking a bath, drinking a glass of red wine.

Then all of a sudden — a “loud-sounding alarm interrupted the piano and the haunting sound of a heavy, metal door slamming shut” gave her chills. The camera zooms out of the happy, showering blonde woman to reveal that she is now in prison. In the next scene, the same woman is dressed in an orange jumpsuit and says, “My name is Piper Chapman.”

“And I dropped the remote,” Wolters wrote. She heard “lesbian lover” and “drug smuggling” and instantly caught on to what she was watching — an on-screen adaption of the experience of her ex-lover.

Rosenblat said she was thrilled at the prospect of being in a show that took place in a women’s prison and had initially auditioned for the role as Russian character Red.

She was told she wouldn’t be cast as Red but was instead offered the role as Miss Rosa, a fictional character only found in the “Orange Is the New Black” Netflix series. To her agent she said, “Great, who is she?”

“A prisoner.”

“Oh, what’s she done?”

“We don’t know.”

“Where’s she from?”

“No idea.”

“Okay …”

“And by the way, she’s got cancer. Will you shave your head?” Rosenblat was asked.

Rosenblat said she initially walked away from the role, but decided otherwise days later when the producers of “Orange Is the New Black” employed three-time Emmy award-winning special effects makeup artist Josh Turi, known for his special effects makeup in movies such as “The Amazing Spider-Man 2” (2014), “Men in Black 3” (2012) and “Ted 2” (2015). She kept her hair and endured a three-hour-long makeup process during each day of filming.

She said that the challenge of being cast as Miss Rosa was finding out who the character was, as she did not have much help.

“As an actor, you have to bring your A-game and you try to build something from whole cloth,” she said. “You have to invest what you get with blood, plasma, guts, a soul, an attitude and you have to make a choice and hopefully the director sees that and says, ‘Yeah, we can work with her.’ They like that.”

Rosenblat said she learned a lot about the life of women in prison as she played the role of one.

“The thing to understand is that they are people,” Rosenblat said. “They are mothers. They are sisters. They are daughters. And they have lives.”

Martoni said that the OB/ONP program is a great opportunity for people in the New Paltz community to learn more and empower themselves.

“This program and the books we choose get people inspired,” she said. “We have a very diverse age range, from the elderly to those in high school, and I think that the benefit of being empowered affects them all.”

OB/ONP chooses a book each February. Book suggestions for the upcoming year can be emailed to

One Book/One New Paltz initiative takes on the prison system with this year’s community read “Orange is the New Black”

Written by Sharyn Flanagan
Published in the New Paltz Times

Pictured are some of the members of the One Book/One New Paltz Committee (L-R): Linda Welles, Abby Chance, Darlene Davis, Charlene Martoni, Shelley Sherman, John Giralico, Sue Books and Myra Sorin. This year's book is “Orange is the New Black” by Piper Kerman. (photo by Lauren Thomas)

Book clubs are a great way for people to get together to talk about ideas. But usually the clubs are made up of people who are already friends, or at least already know one another, and therefore probably have somewhat similar backgrounds. But what if a book club could encompass an entire community; a diverse range of people of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and economic levels who could stimulate each other’s ideas through the common ground of a shared reading experience?

That’s the premise behind the “One Book, One City” concept that began in 1998 when Nancy Pearl, executive director of the Washington Center for the Book in the Seattle Public Library, initiated a project called, “If All Seattle Read the Same Book.” She obtained funding to bring an author to the area and invited members of the public to read his book and discuss it in a series of free public programs.

Since then, “One Book, One City” projects have been adopted nationwide. People in New Paltz have had the opportunity to participate in One Book/One New Paltz since 2005, when Dr. Gerald Benjamin, director of The Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz, founded a committee to organize the annual project as a way to build community between the college and the greater New Paltz population.

The initiative also promotes reading and literacy, says Charlene Martoni, who recently became chairperson of the One Book/One New Paltz Committee. “It’s really all about bringing people together and getting them talking and getting them thinking, so that we can start a conversation about current ideas going on in the world,” she says. “We present these ideas without any bias on our part, through the book, and through program speakers who offer their own take on the book.”

With minor exception, the programs are free of charge to attend. With 15 offered this year during the week of November 15-22, there are ample opportunities for people to attend one or more of the book discussions, film screenings and presentations that will be offered at different locations throughout the town. “The whole point of having so many programs is to give everybody the opportunity to be a part of the experience,” explains Martoni. “We encourage people from all backgrounds to participate; the more diverse, the better.”

The book selected by the One Book/One New Paltz Committee for this year’s community read is Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison, a memoir by Piper Kerman. (It should be noted that the discussions in New Paltz will concentrate on the book by Kerman and not the Netflix TV series that it inspired, which changes names and takes creative license with the facts.)

In her memoir, the author recounts how her decision to help a woman she was romantically involved with led to her indictment years later on charges of drug trafficking and money laundering. Despite the fact she’d left that period of her life behind and moved on to graduate from Smith College and live an upright life, Kerman was convicted and spent 13 months in the federal correctional facility in Danbury, Conn. She later wrote Orange is the New Black about that period in her life. Kerman now serves on the board of the Women’s Prison Association and frequently speaks to students and judicial groups about prison reform. The One Book/One New Paltz program will use Kerman’s story as a jumping off point to look at issues relating to our nation’s flawed criminal justice system.

The book was selected for the community read because it fits the criteria the committee uses each year in its selection process. The book chosen needs to encompass many different issues that can be talked about in the various programs and has to be relatable to different parts of the population, says Martoni. Suggestions are taken during the first months of each year and after books are read by several members of the committee, a final five are voted on with one selected by spring.

In addition to editing VISITVortex Hudson Valley magazine and doing graduate studies on library and information science, Martoni works at the Sojourner Truth Library on the SUNY New Paltz campus as the evening and weekend circulation supervisor. One of her goals for One Book/One New Paltz, she says, is to increase the student turnout for the programs and the college’s involvement with the project, noting that a student panel discussion will take place in the Student Union Room 62/63 on Monday, November 16 at 2 p.m. — in which SUNY New Paltz students and professor of sociology Alexandra Cox will speak about their work with inmates in educational and advocacy contexts — and an academic panel led by Dr. Gerald Benjamin will follow at the same location at 4:30 p.m.

Benjamin still serves on the One Book/One New Paltz Committee he founded a decade ago.

In addition to chair Charlene Martoni, who also serves as webmaster, the group includes Mick Adams, professor emeritus of mathematics at SUNY New Paltz; Joanna Arkans, New Paltz High School librarian; Gerald Benjamin, committee founder and director of The Benjamin Center at the college; Sue Books, secondary education for SUNY New Paltz; Abby Chance, Barner Books; Mark Colvson, Sojourner Truth Library; Jacqueline Denu, SUNY New Paltz; John Giralico, director of Elting Memorial Library; Robin Jacobowitz, The Benjamin Center; Linda Welles, Elting Memorial Library trustee; and New Paltz residents Darlene Davis, Shaylene Meyers, Shelley Sherman and Myra Sorin.

More information is available at

2015 T.E.A.L. Walk

Fundraiser and walk participant.

Tell Every Amazing Lady About Ovarian Cancer, Louisa M. McGregor Ovarian Cancer Foundation also known as T.E.A.L.®’s mission is to promote public awareness and education of the signs, symptoms and risk factors of Ovarian Cancer, while providing support to survivors and raising funds for research in order to find the cure for Ovarian Cancer.

Guiding Out of the Darkness

Written by John Tappen
Published in the New Paltz Oracle

Photo from oracle.newpaltz.eduCharlene Martoni’s best friend lost  someone to suicide.

“I saw how one person’s suicide can have an affect on others — a ripple effect,” Martoni said.

For three years, Martoni, a fifth-year journalism and education major, has been the chairperson for the SUNY New Paltz Out of the Darkness Walk for Suicide Prevention.

Martoni said the walk is an event where people can feel safe speaking about suicide — a subject that continues to be stigmatized.

“No one wants to talk about it,” Martoni said.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students, following car accidents and addressing this fact is important because “suicide is preventable,” Martoni said.

During her time coordinating the Out of the Darkness Walk, Martoni said she has met neighbors, classmates and co-workers who are suicide survivors and felt comfortable talking about their experience.

The term “suicide survivor” encompasses anyone who has attempted suicide or has had a close friend or relative attempt or commit suicide, Martoni said.

“The biggest problem is getting people to talk about it,” Maria Idoni, Hudson Valley and Westchester chapter area director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said.

Idoni said the goal is to make people comfortable speaking about suicide — much in the same way that in the past it was taboo to talk about drunk driving or child abuse.

The Out of The Darkness Walk will raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Idoni estimates that in its first year, the event amassed $6,000.

Martoni said through working with the area AFSP, she “feels a part of a family,” and each year organizing the walk has gotten easier. Martoni said she’s been able to do more with this walk because of her experience from previous years.

At this year’s walk there will be three musical performances, a raffle and guest speakers from the school and from AFSP, Martoni said.

The walk, which will take place on Saturday, April 6 at 1:30 p.m., will begin on Parker Quad.

Martoni said the walk is “slow-paced and calming” and will culminate in a closing ceremony that involves announcing raffle winners, and a reading of names of lost loved ones given by participants at the beginning of the event.

Biodegradable balloons will be released at the end to honor the victims of suicide, Martoni said.

The Hudson Valley and Westchester chapters of the AFSP will host another Out of the Darkness Walk on Sunday, May 19 at Clarkstown High School North, Idoni said.

A Light out of the Darkness

Written by Katie Kocijanski
Published in the New Paltz Oracle

The overall goal of the Out of the Darkness campus walk held last Saturday, May 1 was to bring suicide out of the Darkness and into the light. The money raised will benefit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students and the third among adolescents between the ages of 17 and 24, said first-year visual arts and graphic design major Lynda Hartley.

“The more that people are aware of such a devastating epidemic the more they can help and prevent,” said Hartley.

Hartley said he believes that the walk has a greater impact then people really think.

“When students see a big procession through campus they are naturally curious as to what is going on,” said Hartley. “Even if we don’t get them all to come to the walk, we can still impact and make them think.”

The Out of the Darkness walks are just a small part of the grand picture. The money they raise goes into research to help the future, said Hartley.

According the AFSP website, the foundation, which was founded in 1987, is one of the leading national, non-profit organizations that uses research, education and advocacy to understand and prevent suicide. The founders of this organization were shocked by the rise in numbers of suicide and felt that it was necessary to take action.

AFSP is working to educate the public through workshops, website, and videos . The website has numerous resources for the general public, schools, colleges and health institutes. The AFSP also plays a large part in the aftermath of suicide. They have support groups for families and friends who have lost loved ones to suicide and workshops on coping with the pain. There are also groups for those who have survived the pain of suicide.

Third-year graphic design major Dennis Yu also participated in the walk. He alone raised around $250. Yu hopes that this walk shows people and locals that there are people who care about those dealing with depression.

“I hope the walk raised awareness for suicide victims and I wish people would take hints of suicide seriously,” said Yu. “If I do not see the signs of a suicidal victim, I want to make myself available for those who are on the verge of taking their life.”

Yu became involved with the cause after speaking with many friends who had become depressed. He believes that by becoming involved with the AFSP, he is able to show people he is here if they need him.

“I believe that you are able to prevent suicide if you see the signs of depression before suicide,” said Yu. “I want to show that anyone can be a victim of suicide and people should care because you cannot gain a life once it’s gone.”

According to the captain of the team for the walk, Charlene Martoni, a total of $1,462 was raised. The people who participated walked in honor of lost loved ones, or were survivors of suicide; there were also people there who were “touched by the ripple-effect that suicide often creates.” Between 20 to 30 walkers participated.

Walkers and volunteers met outside of the Athletic & Wellness Center where registration took place. Food was offered and informational pamphlets were handed out as music played.

Martoni and Nicole Giordano of the Psychological Counseling Center spoke about signs and causes of suicide. Jackie Northaker, who lost her best friend to suicide, shared her experiences as well.

Professionals from OASIS/Haven set up a table to speak with anybody who needed to talk. Participants walked around campus. Upon returning, a raffle took place. Donations came from Barner Books, Manny’s Art Supplies, The Gilded Otter, and Rhineback Artist’s Shoppe. Finally, biodegradable balloons were let go and bubbles were blown in memory of those lost.

For more information or to volunteer visit or or contact Martoni via e-mail.

Not Your Average Spring Break

Written by Kathy Kim
Published in The Little Rebellion

Photo from thelittlerebellion.comFor 10 SUNY New Paltz students, this past spring break didn’t involve basking in the sun and sipping fruity alcoholic beverages. It instead was a different kind of break, an ‘Alternative Spring Break.’

“This program was for students to stay here in New Paltz to do volunteer work during their spring break,” said Erica Wagner, service-learning coordinator of the Career Resource Center.  “Instead of going to a sunny beach to party or to just go home and having nothing else to do, students had this opportunity to benefit their community.”

During this one week, students developed team building and leadership skills as well as volunteering with New Paltz Youth ProgramRondout Valley Animals for AdoptionHabitat for Humanity and Queen’s Galley Soup Kitchen.

“I think it was important for students to ‘give where you live’,” said Alexandra Saba, second year psychobiology major. “Sometimes people in the community have negative feelings about college students and this was an opportunity to show we aren’t always on our cell phones and that we really do care.”

Students first participated in interactive team building and leadership activities. One game was called the ‘Game of Life,’ where people from the Student Affairs division on campus showed students how stereotyping could keep people down in the working world. Students were given a certain race, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation and had to deal with the stereotypes involved.

“We normally don’t experience this because we are in college and not really trying to get a job,” said Kara McDermott, fourth year English major.  “It was interesting to see what people could go through, especially if you are dealing with people that are rude and racist.”

Another was, an online game that simulated the life of those in poverty and students had to learn how to distribute money and get through a month of living at the poverty level.

“You lost your house, your job and had only $1000 to make it through the month,” said Pamela Alverez, fourth year production major. “It simulated the feeling really well of trying to survive with all the difficult and different things coming up in life.”

After the interactive games, students cleaned up, swept and painted rooms in the New Paltz Youth Program center. At the Rondout Valley Animals for Adoption, students played with dogs and puppies. Students also demolished and did some restoring construction work for the facility of the Ulster County Habitat for Humanity. They also helped cook and serve lunch/dinner at the Queens Galley Soup Kitchen as well as a collection of goods and money at Shop Rite. They extraordinarily collected $409 and 333 items totaling 399 lbs of food, which was donated to the Queens Galley Soup Kitchen.

Charlene Martoni, third year journalism and secondary education major,walked away with a strong bond with her 10 new friends. They all plan to keep volunteering together in the future.

“The most memorable part was the last day where we reflected on all of the volunteer work we did and how close the group had gotten,” said Martoni. “It was amazing to see how genuine all of our relationships were because they were formed through a challenging experience of volunteer work.”

Martoni believes that volunteering was difficult at times, yet productive, inspirational and memorable. She encourages other students to get out and do the same.

“I think it’s important for students to specifically volunteer because it helps them grow as people while positively affecting their community,” said Martoni. “It’s always good to try new things and what you give will come back to you in some other way.”

Students can learn more about volunteering by making an appointment at the Career Resource Center with Erica M. Wagner. For more information email at or call the Career Resource Center at (845) 257-3265.