(Image above, clockwise from top left: Luke McConnell, Ava Kellner, Daasabre McPhee-Djan, Andre McConnell, Josephine Hollander, Greg Ronel and Jacob Cormier.)
Last year, there were several fresh new faces answering questions and engaging with children in The Pound Ridge Partnership’s tent at Food Truck Fridays. And this past fall, about 50 young, enthusiastic volunteers stuffed people into sumo suits, played games, made slime, etc. in the kids tent during Pound Ridge’s annual Harvest Festival. Where did all these teens come from? It’s part of The Partnership’s new junior board, an idea envisioned by Greg Ronel, a junior at Fox Lane High School.
As a sophomore, Ronel decided to fulfill the community service hours he needed for graduation by volunteering with The Partnership. And although he enjoyed the experience, he noticed The Partnership lacked “young, enthusiastic and reliable volunteers,” so he began to brainstorm.
“I also noticed that many students at Fox Lane didn’t know how to earn community service hours,” says Ronel. “I realized that I could help solve both issues by creating a junior board that was responsible for bringing community service opportunities to high schoolers and bringing great volunteers to the board.”
He pitched the idea to his mom, a board member, and then to the board. Everyone agreed it was a great idea, and Tami McCarthy, owner of KAHLO Collective in Pound Ridge, volunteered to be the initial liaison.
“The Partnership has a need for all kinds of volunteerism, based on the robust schedule of events that we do around the community,” says McCarthy. “And I love finding ways for younger people to get involved in our community, whether they’re kids, teenagers or young adults. So it was a win-win for everybody, especially because high schoolers need community service hours in order to graduate.”
Ronel knew exactly who to tap for the new board – six reliable classmates: Jacob Cormier, Josephine Hollander, Ava Kellner, Andre McConnell, Luke McConnell and Dassabre McPhee-Djan.
“Community service has always been a big part of my life, so I was very excited to join the junior board,” says Kellner who is also a member of the volunteer fire department in Bedford Village.
The junior board created a very simple structure: prior to an event, Ronel meets with the liaison and then communicates The Partnership’s needs to his team. In 2022, they volunteered at Food Truck Fridays, Proud Day and Harvest Fest.
The teens do it all – set up, clean up and man booths, and along the way, the board members gain more than just volunteer hours; they also recruit other teens to volunteer, giving the board members an opportunity to develop leadership and team management skills.
“A big part of what we do is recruiting volunteers from our school because we need a lot of volunteers, especially at Harvest Fest,” says McPhee-Djan. “We’re also making sure that everything is running smoothly. We’re always watching in case there are any problems so we can help solve them.”
The Partnership has experienced numerous benefits from their new junior board – the members are reliable, punctual and organized, according to McCarthy. In fact, even when a COVID-19 outbreak swept through their school, the board members made sure to find healthy replacements for everyone, including themselves, who committed to the event.
“They have the best positive attitude, which is really important,” says McCarthy. “They went above and beyond – whatever we needed them to do, they did. And it was that way for every event they volunteered for. They never ever disappointed us, and they never fell short. They also seemed to really enjoy being engaged with the community, which was really heartwarming.”
Plus, the teen volunteers feel more welcoming and engaging for the younger children who are brought to (or dragged to, depending on who you ask) these events with their parents.
“The parents want to socialize, and the kids just want to play, and that can be a tricky landscape to navigate,” says McCarthy. “But having the junior board volunteers in the mix is nice because they can kind of keep an eye on the little kids while the adults socialize.”
“We see some of the same children at each event, and we’ve become a friendly face for them,” says Kellner. “Now, they’ll run right up to us! It’s helped create a bridge in the community for them and for us.”
Looking toward the future
Because the entire board is comprised of students in their junior year, they’re beginning to consider who will replace them when they graduate in 2024.
“We’re observing the consistent volunteers in younger grades to see if they have what it takes to be a board member,” Ronel explains. “We’re looking for people who have enthusiasm at the events, appear interested in being a part of the community, are able to recruit volunteers and can promote events.”
And they’re also thinking about how their board can evolve to serve community-based organizations in the neighboring towns of Bedford, Lewisboro and Mount Kisco.
“I’d like to see us expand our volunteer pool to a wider area and expand our horizons into other organizations,” says Ronel. “There are many other community service opportunities in towns like Mount Kisco and Katonah, and I’d like to see us form junior boards for those organizations. One way we could do this is to have different board members responsible for each organization. So, for example, one of our board members would be responsible for communicating with a liaison at Bedford Playhouse, while another would be responsible for The Partnership, and another would handle a different organization, etc.”
But for now, they’re having a great time getting their feet wet as a new junior board.
“It’s been really incredible to help out and give back to a community that’s given me so much,” says McPhee-Djan. “And it’s also been amazing to develop my leadership skills while helping such a great community become even better for everyone.”
This article was published in the January/February 2023 print edition of Katonah Connect.
Gia Miller is an award-winning journalist and the editor in chief/co-publisher of Katonah Connect. She says she’s living the dream she never knew she had. Gia enjoys telling people’s stories, laughing at her crazy dog and a good podcast. She thanks multiple alarms, fermented grapes and her husband for helping her get through each day. Her love languages are food and humor.