6/25 - Leadership Westchester Graduation Created On 4/28/2017
Registration Now Open For The Leadership Westchester Graduation of Class of 2018
Join us as we induct the graduates of the 21st class of Leadership Westchester and welcome them into our LW Alumni Association as well as recognize the 2018 LW Alumna of the Year, Judith Douglas (LW'08), the Executive Director of the NY Service + Justice Collaborative!
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.
3 Unconventional Ways to Volunteer Created On 5/24/2018
3 Unconventional Ways to Volunteer With New York Attitude
For some when they think about volunteering the first thing that comes to mind is giving clothes to the good will, planting community gardens, or ladling soup into bowls for those experiencing homelessness. What many people don’t realize is that there are many things, unconventional things, that can be done for volunteering.
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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.
Paul Alcorn and Mel Berger
2018 Safe Community Award
2018 Social Advocacy Award
Christine Silverstein is quite clear on one point: women are excellent caregivers for their aging parents, their children, and their husbands. They are not nearly as good at asking for or accepting help when they need it. “Women always think that someone else needs the assistance more than they do. They are hard-wired to be the caregiver, not the receiver of care,” says the Rockland County native. Christine learned a lot about the challenges that one can face when she went through the high-risk pregnancy and delivery of her twin sons, Connor and Ryan, now 17-year-old seniors in high school. “I was confined to bed at the Westchester Medical Center for weeks. I was scared and depressed. I felt very alone. The medical bills were mounting and just overwhelming,” she remembers. That experience gave her a rich reserve of understanding and compassion to tap into years later when a good friend, who had a young son with cancer, was herself struck with breast cancer. It was Christine who stepped forward to offer her the support she needed.
What began as the simple gesture of helping a girlfriend through a medical and financial crisis blossomed quickly, and United Women of Rockland was formed as a nonprofit in 2014. Today over 150 volunteers form a web of support for women with the primary goal to help alleviate the financial stress of going through a medical crisis. Funds are raised through four annual events – including The Race, on May 12 – and on an as-needed basis. Everyone’s needs are unique however, and support can take on different, highly personal meaning. Some women need help going grocery shopping or preparing meals. Mothers may need a ride for their children to soccer practice, while others may need a ride to chemotherapy. Others need advice and direction to successfully navigate the various social services available. Oftentimes, Christine says, “People just need someone to make them laugh.”
Christine truly believes in paying it forward because she realizes you never know when you could be the one in need. And in that time, there is no doubt that United Women of Rockland will jump right in to lend a hand. ￼.
2018 Youth Leadership Award
Shakil Henriques admits now that he did not know what to expect when he was sent to volunteer on a daily basis at the Wartburg Adult Care program. “They told me to go in with an open mind and I did,” he recalls. “This was definitely new territory for me.”
Shakil is a resident of the Youth Shelter of Westchester, an early intervention residential program for young men ages 16 to 21 who are awaiting resolution of various charges in the adult criminal justice system. The Shelter is licensed by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services and is the only one of its kind in the state. In addition to the emphasis on continuing education, vocational training, and counseling, the residents are encouraged to volunteer. Many young men, like Shakil, go to Wartburg, an elder care facility and nursing home in Mount Vernon to connect and give back. They provide assistance to the Adult Care program, as well as help with other things to brighten the participants’ spirits, such as decorating for the holiday season. It is a unique pairing that has proved to be successful for the young men and for the Wartburg community.
Shakil’s day can be busy and varied during his 9am to 2pm work period. He greets people as they enter in the morning and helps them with their coats. He serves meals and helps with games and other recreational activities. Some days there can be as many as 90 registrants at Wartburg’s programs. As one of the supervisors noted, not everyone can work comfortably with the senior population, many who have dementia. When asked what he has learned from his volunteer experience, Shakil is quick to reply, “I learned that I am a people person. The registrants show you so much love. I began to laugh more and I learned not to be so timid.” Shakil also shares his positive experience with his peers at the Youth Shelter, encouraging them to volunteer and never be afraid to venture into new territory.
Next month, Shakil will begin a new chapter when he returns home. He hopes to start college soon and apply his newfound “people person” skills.;
Stephanie Marquesano & the New Rochelle High School CODA Club
2018 Education and Literacy Award
Stephanie Marquesano founded the harris project at her kitchen table in Ardsley during the profoundly sad and difficult days between her son Harris’ death, from an accidental drug overdose from co-occurring disorders, and his funeral in October 2013. Many people would not have had the emotional or physical strength at that dark moment to think clearly after what Stephanie’s son and their family had been through. Stephanie, however, recognized with great clarity that the treatment systems had failed her son in terms of the mental health component of the problem. People needed to be given the tools to sustain their recovery once they were back home. It became a defining moment.
Since that time, Stephanie has become a tireless advocate to raise awareness of co-occurring disorders. She serves as Co- Chair of the Co-Occurring System of Care Committee of the Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health and is a Youth Advocate for the Mid-Hudson Regional Planning Consortium.
Through the harris project, Stephanie developed the CODA (Co-Occurring Disorders Awareness) prevention program, a student driven movement to change the conversation about the way society thinks about mental health and substance abuse. The program was piloted in a number of Westchester high schools, but the club at New Rochelle High School has been one of the most active and impactful in its first year with youth-led activities including school wide announcements, tabling with awareness information and materials, displaying messages of encouragement and compassion throughout the school, and holding educational workshops and assembly presentations with outside speakers. “I believe that the things that I am learning from CODA will be the key to a healthy and happy college experience,” says senior and executive committee member Kristin Gallagher. Fellow board member Claudia Marcelin, echoes this sentiment when she talks about the organization. “Of all the things that I do,” she says, “I hold CODA most dear. It is the key to building successful coping mechanisms for the problems that come up in high school and even college.”
Together Stephanie and the New Rochelle High School CODA Club’s goals are increased awareness, early intervention and a reduction in the stigma typically associated with mental health challenges/substance misuse.
2018 Quality of Life Award
United for the Troops began quite simply with a gesture that parents everywhere can relate to: Jim Rathschmidt and his wife Patty mailed a care package to their son Luke who was deployed with the 82nd Airborne in Iraq. The package contained simple items like toiletries and snacks. Luke appreciated the package, but he told his parents that he felt badly because most of his fellow soldiers did not receive any mail or care packages at all. This bothered Jim, and he began collecting items to fill boxes to send to Luke’s friends and colleagues. In the early days, all the boxes were sent directly to Luke, who passed them around to his delighted fellow soldiers. Later on Patty sent out questionnaires asking what the soldiers would like to see in their packages. It was definitely a labor of love.
Today United for the Troops is a thriving nonprofit organization. Thanks to Jim’s tireless devotion and countless presentations, it is supported by a network of local schools, civic groups, Scout troops, and business leaders who help gather, sort items and pack boxes. Many also help by writing cards and letters that are tucked into packages to add a warm message of caring from the home front. The goal is always to support and remember deployed service members in the hope of making things a little easier for them. The organization works out of space provided by Putnam County to collect and pack the items needed to ship over 18,000 packages a year. The items that fill the boxes are all donated. Any money that is raised or collected is used to pay for the shipping which runs about $15 per box.
There is one point that Jim is most emphatic about: “My wife Patty and I are co-founders of United for the Troops. We each have done the things we do best. She works behind the scenes while I am the front man. We each have our roles to play in the success of the organization.” Together they are ensuring that those brave service members, in dangerous war zones, know they are not alone and thought of with a package from home.
2018 Going Green Award
Suzie Ross fulfilled a longtime desire to get involved with her community and to do something to make a real difference when she joined an advisory group that was writing a climate action plan for the Town of Ossining. At that time, Suzie was in the midst of a full-time career as a media research executive with two teenaged sons, Jake and Ben. She recalls feeling like a bit of an outsider sitting with people that she did not know during those early meetings. She felt uncomfortable with the thought that many had more academic credentials and experience. It didn’t take long however to realize that she did not need that level of expertise to get involved. “Being a concerned member of the community was what mattered. My opinions and commitment to the project were enough to make me an accepted member of the team,” recalls Suzie.
Today Suzie is the head of Green Ossining. Under her high-energy direction, the Greater Ossining Earth Day Festival has grown from 300 attendees in its first year to the largest such festival in Westchester County with 4,000 attendees in 2017. This year’s event will take place Saturday, April 21st, from 10am to 5pm. Recently Green Ossining launched a Repair Café where folks with skills gather to fix beloved but broken items, at no cost. As an extension of her engagement in environmental matters, Suzie recently attended Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Corp, which further ignited her passion and dedication to making Westchester a greener place.
In addition, Suzie heads the Ossining Documentary and Discussion Series, which has as its slogan: “Bringing Our Community Together One Film at a Time.” Each monthly documentary screening is followed by a moderated panel discussion and Q&A session. When asked about the connection between her Green Ossining work and the Documentary Series, Suzie quickly replied, “At one point, a lot of things started overlapping for me. A healthy community is an environmentally aware community and vice versa. They are related.”
While she may have a busy volunteering schedule, Ross admitted “I don’t really think of it as volunteering. I think of it as civic responsibility.”
2018 Legacy Award
A senior advisor to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Geri Shapiro is a long-time Westchester resident and intimately involved with a myriad of important issues that impact our community and its residents. She is a staunch advocate for the county, working with leadership from all levels of government, nonprofits and the business community. Geri understands intimate details of the “big picture” of any issue – seniors, people with disabilities, nuclear power, access to social services, healthcare – but her primary focus is always on the person or family whose life is directly impacted.
Geri’s first career was as a stay-at-home mom who devoted much of her time volunteering at her daughter’s school and caring for her aging parents. She was active in the Edgemont PTA and served as PTA president. In 2000, she began volunteering for Hillary Clinton’s U.S. Senate campaign. Known by her family as the “expeditor,” her skills and experiences were quickly recognized and, at age 59, she was asked to serve as Westchester County Regional Director for Senator Clinton. In 2009 she transitioned to Regional Director for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and currently serves as a Senior Advisor.
Geri is among those who are quietly working to make Westchester County a better place, all while inspiring and empowering others. Throughout her career, she has mentored staff, volunteers, and members of the community, particularly women. Geri has been honored with the National Association for Female Executives 2012 Women of Excellence Award for Service to New York for her “vision, courage, compassion, proven success and generosity as demonstrated by how they help other women succeed.”
For Volunteer New York!, Geri has served as a mentor to the organization’s leadership. She greatly values Volunteer New York!’s mission and has asked probing questions that have encouraged critical reflection, helped formulate effective messaging, and introduced the organization to her extended network. Geri has described our work as “infrastructure” and knows that volunteers are critical to the effectiveness of any nonprofit.
Volunteering, and a bit of tenacity, opened a new door in Geri’s life, and she believes in its power to do the same for others.
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.