Aux­il­iary cop goes from be­ing home­less to at­tend­ing Har­vard, hopes to in­spire oth­ers

The Buffalo News - - LOCAL NEWS - By El­iz­a­beth Elizalde

A vol­un­teer cop from Queens has gone from liv­ing in a home­less shel­ter to study­ing at Har­vard Univer­sity, and she hopes to be an in­spi­ra­tion for oth­ers strug­gling to im­prove their lives.

Athena Capo-Battaglia, 18, said she knew that get­ting a higher ed­u­ca­tion would put her on a path that would change her world.

“I felt I had to get into col­lege be­cause this is not where I want to stay,” said the aux­il­iary NYPD of­fi­cer who ap­plied to col­leges while liv­ing in a shel­ter.

“I was like, ‘OK, this is one way that I can get out and maybe in the fu­ture get a good job.’ “

Capo-Battaglia and her mother en­tered the shel­ter sys­tem two years ago be­cause they were strug­gling to pay rent af­ter her mother was di­ag­nosed with breast can­cer and her grand­mother died.

“It was kind of hard for us to get into the groove of things,” she said. “We just didn’t have enough money to af­ford an apart­ment af­ter a few years.”

“It hap­pens to a lot more peo­ple than you think,” said Capo-Battaglia. “All kinds of peo­ple end up there for all kinds of rea­sons.

“It’s not just be­cause peo­ple are lazy.”

As of this month, there were 63,839 home­less peo­ple and 15,492 home­less fam­i­lies liv­ing in New York City shel­ters, the Coali­tion for the Home­less said.

Capo-Battaglia ended up liv­ing in a shel­ter in Queens, where she joined the aux­il­iary po­lice, which helps the NYPD keep the pub­lic safe. She vol­un­teered with the 103rd Precinct.

“I thought it would be a great op­por­tu­nity to get to know peo­ple and ex­pe­ri­ence the out­side world more, re­ally un­der­stand what the po­lice do,” she said.

“A big part of the aux­il­iary po­lice is build­ing con­nec­tions be­tween the com­mu­nity and the po­lice, so I thought I’d re­ally like to be a part of that.”

While at­tend­ing high school in Man­hat­tan and ap­ply­ing for col­leges, CapoBattaglia trained twice a week, learn­ing NYPD pro­to­cols and pro­ce­dures and self­de­fense.

“I felt like I was do­ing some­thing good,” she said. “It’s a lot about main­tain­ing pub­lic safety.”

And then, last March, she was ac­cepted into Har­vard Univer­sity.

“I called my friend, and I just screamed, ‘Oh my God, I got into Har­vard!’ “she re­called.

“It was re­ally ex­cit­ing. I wanted to see if I could get in. I’m used to chal­leng­ing my­self. That’s what I had to do my whole life.”

“[Her mother] was su­perex­cited, as well,” she said. “She was su­per­proud.”

The ac­com­plish­ments kept on com­ing for CapoBattaglia.

She grad­u­ated from the aux­il­iary po­lice last April and was class vale­dic­to­rian. The mayor’s of­fice also rec­og­nized Capo-Battaglia and 100 other col­lege-bound high school stu­dents with an award and $1,000 schol­ar­ships.

“I felt like I ac­com­plished some­thing,” she said. “It’s al­ways nice to be re­warded.”

Capo-Battaglia, who plans to go into the field of neu­ro­science, lives on Har­vard’s Cam­bridge, Mass., cam­pus, has a job at a lo­cal cafe and at­tends classes full time.

“It’s a lot, but there are so many op­por­tu­ni­ties, es­pe­cially at Har­vard,” she said.

Back in New York dur­ing school breaks, Capo-Battaglia lives with her mother at the shel­ter, still vol­un­teers with the 103rd Precinct and says she might even con­sider join­ing the NYPD.

“It de­pends on what jobs I de­cide will suit me the best. I def­i­nitely plan to con­tinue in aux­il­iary. My ex­pe­ri­ences here have been re­ally great,” she said.

“I never re­ally feel like the strug­gle is over,” said CapoBattaglia.

“It’s def­i­nitely re­ward­ing to give back,” she said.

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