My family and I have lived in Chappaqua since 1996. Over the years, as a stay-at-home parent, I have volunteered for many organizations. None have been more meaningful to me than Neighbors Link.
The Neighbors Link mission is to strengthen the whole community through the healthy integration of immigrants. Neighbors Link was formed in 2001 by community members who believed that our community is stronger, safer, and more vibrant when we recognize the value and humanity of every resident. I have been volunteering for Neighbors Link in one capacity or another since its doors opened in 2001.
Currently, I serve as Co-Chair, along with Ali Tejtel, of the Friends of Neighbors Link. The Friends support Neighbors Link through fundraising, advocacy work, and community outreach.
I learned the importance of giving back to the community from my mother. She volunteered as the Director of Blood Services for the New Canaan Red Cross. I have crystal clear memories of her making phone calls at night to schedule and confirm blood donation appointments, and I spent countless Saturdays at local bloodmobiles, watching her in action as she supervised the events. Because of my mother’s example, I started donating blood at age 16 and I still donate today.
Volunteering for over 20 years at Neighbors Link has allowed me to set the same consistent example of giving back to the community for my own children. When I started volunteering at Neighbors Link, my two children were in pre-school and elementary school; now they are “grown and flown.” When I look at the choices they started making in high school and continue to make today, my heart swells.
In high school, my eldest twice swam across the Hudson River to raise money for cancer research; was president of a high school club that raised money for charity; and helped with administrative projects in the Neighbors Link back office. She now devotes more hours than she cares to tally volunteering on the national level for her college sorority–on top of having a demanding career, a (wonderful!) marriage and a baby on the way.
My youngest chose to make a very serious volunteer commitment in high school: He served as a volunteer firefighter for the Chappaqua Fire Department, joining at age 16 and maintaining that commitment throughout college. He continues his first responder focus today by working for the Department of Homeland Security.
My mother would be proud.
I blush and feel a tinge of excitement when asked how I met my husband. We have an untraditional story that makes it hard to finish with the usual, “What about you?” Our story is serendipitous and sweet, but also perfectly sets the foundation for our relationship and the family we’ve created. We met while volunteering at an animal rehabilitation sanctuary in Namibia, both planning to return to New York afterwards. This experience shaped our relationship in its early stages, as we spent most weekends in Manhattan volunteering, and currently sets an example for our three young children.
Since moving to Westchester, we have found a volunteering home at Neighbors Link. My husband teaches ESL, and I currently co-chair the Friends of Neighbors Link. Our children understand the socio-economic diversity in our community and are always eager to learn more about the clients my husband has met in his lessons, and help me in various efforts as a Friend. We love to find creative ways to include our children in our volunteering, fostering an altruistic attitude that makes these activities fun and meaningful.
A pennant hanging in our family’s mudroom reminds us to “Be Kind” every time we leave the house. Whether the kids can read the words or not, I know they practice this mantra daily, believe in giving more than they take, and always greeting their literal and figurative neighbors with a smile and helping hand.
While COVID flipped our lives upside down, we also found a rich silver lining in the opportunities it presented for us to help others. My work as a Friend led to organizing a bi-weekly diaper drive for younger families. My children would gleefully tumble into the backseat of our car with a list of diaper recipients, eager to wave to each family who came to receive their package. They now understand the difference between wants and needs, and this experience leaves them humbled and grateful.
It warms my heart to know how proud our children are to help their community.