Volunteer Q&A: Abby Watanabe Created On 3/23/2018
How one woman turned retirement into an opportunity to help those less fortunate with Furniture Sharehouse
Don’t be fooled by Abby Watanabe’s diminutive stature or genteel Tennessee twang. The 5’2” Southern native and longtime former resident of Rye with her husband, Henry (they recently relocated to nearby Greenwich, CT), is a force to be reckoned with.
2018 RSVP of Westchester Spring Recognition Event Honoree: Celeste Vazzana Created On 3/26/2018
Celeste Vazzana of Scarsdale first began volunteering at the White Plains Hospital Gift Shop in 1989 and has since volunteered over 6,600 hours of service.
This past week, Celeste was honored for her service as a Senior Corps member, at the annual RSVP of Westchester Spring Recognition event, which took place at Half Moon in Dobbs Ferry, with over 70 fellow RSVP volunteers and guests.
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Volunteer Spirit Awards - Recipient of 2016 Safe Community Award
For Leandro Francisco, as with so many Americans, heart disease is a family matter, reaching him through his mother’s family. For Francisco and for many of the White Plains middle school students who have participated in Hoops for Heart and Hands Only CPR training over the years, the connection between heart disease, heart health and preventive measures is very personal indeed.
Puerto Rican-born Leandro was raised in the Bronx. He attended City College and received his Master’s degree in Health education from Lehman College. He has worked for nearly 30 years as a coach and health educator. For the last 20 years he has been in the White Plains school district at the Eastview Middle School.
To increase the impact of the event, Eastview schedules the event in March to take advantage of the March Madness excitement. For the 6th graders, a Hands Only CPR training to the informative rhythm of the Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive” was added. Students are taught to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack or stroke and when to call 911 and how to use a defibrillator. In order to better instruct educate the over 400 students in the program each year, Francisco has formed a collaboration with the nurses throughout the White Plains City School District.
Volunteer Spirit Awards - Recipient of 2012 New York Life Youth Leader Award
Since receiving the Youth Leader award in 2012 (at age 13) for his volunteer work as founder of local New Rochelle nonprofit, Stars for Cars, Jake has remained active with his commitment towards supporting Gold Star and Blue Star Military Families – going as far as being named a top-10 youth volunteer in the nation in recognition for his service by the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, partnering with the USO and having his nonprofit selected to be part of the New York Yankees Hope Week (and amongst other distinctions as well). We asked Jake a few follow up questions recently about his experience volunteering:
What’s the most fun you have ever had volunteering?
That’s a difficult question because there have been so many wonderful experiences throughout the six years I have been volunteering. I probably had the most fun volunteering while selling our magnetic Star decals in New York City with my friends before Memorial Day 2015. Another fun experience was hosting a baseball clinic for Military Families at MCU Park last summer. It is always fun attending the Volunteer Spirit Awards!
Looking back at the time you’ve spent volunteering, what are you most proud of having accomplished?
It’s not the accolades and the awards, although I am very grateful that people have given me a platform to talk about Military Families, but I am most proud of the relationships that have been formed. I am proud to have formed lasting relationships with Volunteer New York!, the USO, Prudential Financial, the NY Yankees, and schools all across the country. The most important relationship is with the Gold Star Mother who inspired me to found Stars for Cars. If I can inspire one person to acknowledge the sacrifices of the “Blue Star” and “Gold Star” Military Families then that’s an accomplishment to be proud of.
What’s your advice to other youth?
Connect with something that you feel passionate about. Take that passion and inspire others. Conversely, if you see that passion in someone else, let that inspire you to serve. We serve each other to move the world forward. Our generation can move the world forward when we have passion and we inspire each other. The world can change because we move it, together.
What does it take to be a great volunteer?
If you are volunteering just to check a box, that isn’t a lot of fun. Engaging in a fun activity with a positive attitude makes a good volunteer. Passion makes a great volunteer.
What has volunteering prepared you to do, what are you working on next?
Volunteering helps to fine-tune my leadership skills and to visualize what real progress can look like. Within the past week we expanded the “3 Holidays Announcement” from 10 states to 23 states. Over the next few weeks (after finals), I plan to reach out to national organizations to ask them to say the announcement in their stadiums. During the summer, I plan to contact every U.S. Military Base in the world to let them know that the announcement is being said at home because people haven’t forgotten about their families. Since Military Families move on average nine times during a school career, it is important to let them know their sacrifice is acknowledged by whatever community they are in.
Volunteer Spirit Awards - Recipient of 2017 Going Green Award
Volunteer Spirit Awards - Recipient of 2016 Quality of Life Award
When Larry Fair started spending time helping his brother occupy and enrich his nephews’ free time, he turned back to the experiences and lessons of his youth. On the surface of it, Larry Fair had a difficult childhood. He lost both his parents at an early age and he and his two brothers and his sister were sent to the Wartburg Orphan Farm School in Mount Vernon in the late 1960s. Larry remembers the lessons learned from his house parent, Elfriede Gross with great affection and gratitude. “I may have grown up in an orphanage” he remembers “but I was never made to feel like an orphan”.
Wartburg and with Mrs. Gross interlaced a philosophy about the effort placed on schoolwork, and the enrichment value of recreational activities with discussions on self-respect, keeping your word, and building and protecting one’s reputation. These experiences and personal philosophies were so engrained in Fair that in later life when he began spending more time with his brother and helping him to find meaningful activities and positive examples for his nephews, he instinctively returned to his own formative experiences.
What began as simple weekend excursions with his nephews to parks and rural locations, to hike, play sports or experience horseback riding snowballed as the children asked to bring friends and the friends asked to bring their parents. Larry laughs as he remembers “Soon we had families setting up carpools and making lunches”. These simple family-based weekend outings expanded in to the a nonprofit 501(C) 3 organization known as The Future Society. Based in Mount Vernon, the Future Society offers a variety of events and experiences for over 400 children and their parents each year. Their outings include everything whitewater rafting, horseback riding and obstacle courses and sporting events.
Volunteer Spirit Awards - Recipient of 2017 Education and Literacy Award
Tracy McVey moved to Bronxville with her family, after attending college in Ohio, and later working in banking in Chicago. Like so many people with young children, she spent her available time volunteering at her daughters’ school and on various PTA projects. As her three daughters, Taylor, Lane and Grace, began to move on, one by one, to prep school and to college, McVey came to an abrupt realization, “They simply didn’t need me the same way that they used to.” Tracy had the time available to devote to something that could make a real difference for someone. In her search for an activity to fill her time and her desire to be of help, McVey found Destination: College.
Destination: College is a grass roots organization begun by a group of Bronxville moms. It was built on a local high school coach’s observation that his athletes lost considerable academic momentum and knowledge over the long summer vacation. Tracy began over 5 years ago in the early days of the program. Today, the organization deals with a variety of tasks ranging from after school tutoring and summer reading programs, to Regents, SAT and ACT exam preparations. The program’s efforts are focused on specific high school sports teams. Tracey has worked in a variety of roles, but today she is the head of college counseling. It is a role that she particularly enjoys because she understands fully what a difference going to college can make for a student and his/her family.
Helping others is clearly a family affair for Tracy McVey. She laughingly reveals that she often feels that she is turning into her mother, who was a guidance counselor and teacher in Ohio, who often brought groups of high school students into her home.
Sandra Goldstein Lehnert
Volunteer Spirit Awards - Recipient of 2015 Youth Leader Award
Sandra Goldstein Lehnert joined Student Activists Ending Dating Abuse (SAEDA) her freshman year in high school and she has been involved ever since. “I am not the sort of person that plays sports or a musical instrument. SAEDA offered me the opportunity to be involved, develop a passion for a cause, practice my public speaking and play a leadership role.”
SAEDA is a youth-led education and prevention program for teens sponsored by The Center for Safety and Change. SAEDA fosters a safe environment to talk about issues that may not be easily discussed elsewhere and raise awareness on a variety of topics.
At the end of her freshman year, Goldstein Lehnert became one of the youngest people in the organization to complete a four day training session to become a SAEDA facilitator. Describing herself as being passionate about activist work and wanting to increase acceptance of diversity and equality, Goldstein Lehnert now trains incoming facilitators twice a year and runs weekly after school sub-committee meetings. These meetings cover a variety of topics from teen dating violence, sexual abuse and orientation and other social justice issues. She also leads regular community workshops at the Palisades Mall.
Goldstein Lehnert sees her accumulated volunteer experience as an excellent launching point before starting at Columbia University next fall. She feels volunteering has provided her with a lens to look at the world. When asked how she knows that SAEDA’s programs and efforts are working, Sandra replies, “You can see it working in people’s minds; in their underlying attitudes, in what they respond to and how they say things.”
Jackie Cassagnol RN, MSN, PMC
Volunteer Spirit Awards - Recipient of 2015 Safe Community Award
“For as long as I can remember, I have been a volunteer,” says Jackie Cassagnol, founder and president of Nanuet-based Worldwide Community First Responder, Inc. “Most of my family is in the medical profession and we are all volunteers and helpers.”
Cassagnol was leading a student trip to Israel in 2010 when she watched the coverage of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. She was relieved to learn that her extended family was safe but she was left with the overwhelming feeling that there must be something that she could do to help. She knew that while doctors and nurses certainly have extensive medical training, they don’t always learn emergency preparedness. She knew that there are very real differences about how one needs to operate in an emergency and priorities for action can be different.
Today Jackie travels to Haiti several times a year. She leads training sessions for students and staff about how to be prepared and how to respond in a crisis. She focuses on basic things, like CPR training, what to stock up on, and First Aid skills.
“We are needed everywhere. Our goal is to make a bigger impact and to have more people involved. We have the word ‘Worldwide’ in our name because everyone everywhere can benefit from knowing what to do in an emergency,” says Cassagnol.
Prior to founding Worldwide Community First Responder, Cassagnol worked as a director of nursing, nursing professor and board member of several organizations. She was recently named one of Rockland’s “Forty under 40” by the Rockland Economic Development Corporation. Cassagnol is currently an Adjunct Professor of Nursing at Dominican College.
Volunteer Spirit Awards - Recipient of 2016 Youth Leader Award
Zach Lewis began going to the Greenburgh Nature Center as a very young child. It was a frequent family outing in the midst of his own neighborhood. Today, Zach sees it as nearly inevitable that he would start volunteering at the earliest opportunity simply so that he could spend more time with the animals that he loves. Initially Zach cleaned the animals’ cages and took care of their food and water needs. Soon he progressed to talking to visitors about the animals. Zach takes great satisfaction in his involvement with the people and groups that he talks to at the Nature Center. “It makes me feel good to see people understanding the things that I am saying about the animals and how they behave and how they live in the wild.”
A love for animals generally goes along with an awareness of their environment and the issues involved with sustaining that environment. Zach had such thoughts in mind when he began a Garden and Compost Club with one of his teachers at Soundview Preparatory School in Yorktown Heights. This has led to a Zero Waste Project in the school’s lunchroom. “I am pretty insistent about it” Zach reports with a laugh.
Zach’s childhood interests have led him to do additional volunteer work and research at the Veterinary Center for Birds and Exotics in Bedford. While he still has some time before he needs to make that decision, Zach is currently looking forward to majoring in Veterinary Sciences in college.
Animal lover Zach lives in Edgemont with his two dogs, Honey and Louie, his chameleon, Captain, and two geckoes, Bones and Godzilla.
SeniorCorps Week 2017 - RSVP of Westchester Volunteer Spotlight
Ms. Elizabeth (Libby) Penner of Garrison, NY is a member of RSVP of Westchester who has been volunteering with VA Hudson Valley Healthcare since December 2009. In that time she has accrued more than 4,066 of volunteer hours. In 2015, she was the recipient of the Female Volunteer of the Year for her outstanding contribution, commitment, and devotion to serving Veterans. Libby began her assignment assisting at the Clothing Store under the direction of an American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) member. Little did she know that one day the ALA member would stepdown and she would be the volunteer responsible for overseeing, supervising, and directing the volunteers that are assigned to the clothing store! “I remember when the ALA member came to my office to tell me that she couldn’t have been any happier or content about her decision to stepdown because she knew she left me in good hands,” said, Yvette Rodriguez, Manager of Volunteer Services at the VA Hudson Valley Healthcare.
Libby is truly a dedicated SeniorCorps member who at times stays late or comes in on unscheduled days to ensure she is able to keep up with the demands of all the clothes being donated, which includes receiving and sorting through donated clothing, doing laundry, ironing, sizing, and labeling items. The total amount of donations she sorted in 2016 and 2017 have a value of approximately $265,672. She works closely with the Voluntary Specialist informing her of the needs of the Veterans such as purchasing new underwear, socks, undershirts, etc.
About two years ago along with other great volunteers, she took the task of cleaning a comfort item storage space that was not being utilized properly or maintained. With her supervision and vision, the room was converted into a beautiful storage area to store throw blankets, miscellaneous comfort items, and lab robes into a more manageable and organized storage space.
In 2016, Libby and the team of volunteers had more than 2,603 visits from Veterans seeking clothing and more than 400 new Veterans using the Clothing Store. So far, for in 2017, there have been more than 1,491 visits from Veterans and 233 new Veterans utilizing the Clothing Store. As you can see, Libby is an exceptional volunteer with amazing attributes. “She comes in to volunteer making a great impact on the veterans and staff that she helps day in and day out. I am always proud to show-off the Clothing Store. Many visitors are amazed on how wonderful and well-organized it is kept. There are tags on the pants showing their sizes, everything is ironed, and smelling great!” said Yvette.
“I truly cannot think of anyone more worthy of being spotlighted during Senior Corps week than Elizabeth (Libby) Penner. We are truly grateful for her dedication to our facility and the veterans that we serve. She is an asset to Voluntary Service.”
SeniorCorps Week 2016 - RSVP of Westchester Volunteer Spotlight
Meet, Irene. An active member of RSVP of Westchester who loves to swim, read mystery books and the New York Times -- and just celebrated her 100th birthday without missing a beat.
Irene was born in Illinois in 1916, has one sister and two brothers. She has 7 grand kids and three great grandsons and lives in Thornwood. She graduated from Iowa University and got her masters from Columbia. She was a teacher and then a College Professor for Michigan State University and Washington State University. Irene loves to swim at the YWCA at least three times a week. Irene has traveled all over the world. At 100 years old, Irene drives to her volunteer job but doesn’t enjoy the traffic.
Irene found out about the Open Book volunteer opportunity through the church bulletin. She has been a RSVP member, volunteering with JCY’s OPEN BOOK program since 2000 at the Westchester Medical Center.
OPEN BOOK is a program that fosters reading and literacy among preschool children and families, distributing over 10,000 books annually. As part of the National Reach Out and Read Program, books are prescribed by the pediatricians to the families at the children's “well visits.”
Volunteers, like Irene and other RSVP members read aloud to the children in the waiting room and give them an age- appropriate book to take home; they also model reading techniques for parents/caregivers to use with their children. Parent Education Kits are distributed to the parents/caregivers.
Irene is a trained RSVP member that uses her skills to help the children learn new vocabulary words, proper word pronunciation and promotes a positive attitude towards reading.
When asked “what does volunteering at age 100 means to you?” Irene says “I feel useful” and “I love the kids, they are so adorable”
When Irene volunteers she feels that she’s using her expertise in education. She feels that the children need time to read and spend time to explore new ways of reading.
Irene gives each child one on one attention, cues them on the story they read and goes over vocabulary words with them. She is very passionate about children in general and loves to read books.
Do You Know A Changemaker?
Nominations are now closed for the 2018 Volunteer Spirit Awards.
2018 Volunteer Spirit Award Categories:
Education and Literacy Award
Honors volunteers dedicated to education and literacy through activities including, but not limited to, tutoring, adult literacy, library-based initiatives, early childhood education, and intergenerational programs.
Going Green Award
Honors volunteers who work to protect and beautify our environment and natural surroundings, advocate for the preservation of our planet and strive to instill these values for our community.
Quality of Life Award
Honors individuals who work to improve the quality of life in the following areas, including, but not limited to, working to reduce illness or with the disabled, homeless, elderly, and veteran populations, as well with those with substance abuse problems or mental disabilities.
Safe Community Award
Honors volunteers who work to provide, promote and improve safe behavior in areas including, but not limited to, emergency preparedness, disaster response and relief, First Aid, fire prevention, internet safety.
Social Advocacy Award
Honors volunteers who advocate for and support the righting of injustice in our community in areas such as, but not limited to, human rights, minority rights, domestic violence, housing, job preparedness, etc.
Youth Leadership Award (Individual or Group)
Honors one youth (age 21 years or under) or group of youth for her/his/their outstanding volunteer service for a cause or nonprofit.