Number of Participants: 21
Hours Donated: 8
Value of Time Served: $1,420
Event Type: Children & Youth
School: Harrison High School
Date: January 19, 2019
Three student athletes, Josh Cooper, Matthew Cooper and Connor Novak, created and lead a program called Athletes in Action. Our idea was simple and impactful: to integrate community service into the Harrison High School athletics program. Athletes in Action (“AIA”) has partnered with Pleasantville Cottages School, one of the most respected residential treatment programs in the U.S., and home to emotionally troubled boys and girls, ages 7-16. Students involved in Harrison team sports add value to the Cottages’ kids’ lives through mentorship and friendship. Each sports team is invited to visit Cottages once per season for approximately 1-1/2 hours, to play its specific sport (or related drills) and other fun activities. Since the children live at Cottages 24/7, they are eager for opportunities to engage in fun activities with kids outside of their facility. Most are developmentally delayed and unfamiliar with the range of sports and games AIA can offer. The benefit to both Harrison athletes and Cottages children is immeasurable. This is now a formal community service program endorsed by the Harrison High School (“HHS”) Athletics Department, led by Mr. Chris Galano.
Josh Cooper and Connor Novak are both two-sport Varsity athletes. Matthew Cooper played JV basketball and currently serves as the Varsity basketball team announcer. Given how much time we devote to team sports, we wanted to find a way to combine athletics with our passion for helping others. We realized that the HHS athletes are an untapped resource and can make a significant impact if given the right opportunity. And, we view sports as a way to connect with the Cottages students in a fun and casual way. The volunteers are HHS teenage athletes who are given a chance to do something for those less fortunate. Teenagers often feel powerless to make a difference and this is a simple way to help those in need and to see immediate results. The volunteers report that it is rewarding and fun, and the Cottages kids look forward to each monthly visit. These kids, many of whom have been failed by their own parents, benefit by experiencing new activities and by knowing that an entire athletics program is thinking of them and planning visits on a regular basis. A child who may have felt invisible or neglected, feels special and looks forward to AIA visits.
In order to get AIA started in the early 2018, it was necessary to establish the relationship with Pleasantville Cottages and get approval and logistical support from the HHS administration. We contacted Sandi Rosenthal, Director of Volunteers at Cottages, and arranged a meeting in February 2018, along with Cottages’ weekend Recreation Director. Cottages’ staff was excited by the idea and agreed this approach could have a positive impact and reach a great number of kids at once. We worked through logistics and agreed to have the student-athlete volunteers arrive 15 minutes early for each visit for a required introduction/orientation. The next hurdle was getting HHS on board. We prepared a Power Point summary which we presented to our guidance counselor, the Assistant Principal, and the HHS Athletic Director, Mr. Galano. Mr. Galano loved our proposal and offered to provide AIA with weekend bus transportation to Cottages and to assist as needed. We have found the most challenging part of the program has been logistics: organizing dates for visits, deciding which teams will volunteer when, and assigning responsibility for bringing equipment and drinks. We schedule after-school conference calls and work through the issues. We will continue to do that to ensure that AIA visits to Cottages run smoothly. We have also recruited four other students – two juniors and two sophomores – to join the AIA Board. These students assist with scheduling and also participate in the monthly visits..
Each visit to Pleasantville Cottages accomplishes AIA’s mission of integrating community service into the HHS athletics program and adding value to the lives of the Cottages kids. Already, 35-40 HHS students have volunteered for the monthly visits and hundreds of HHS athletes who participate in Harrison team sports have the opportunity to volunteer for upcoming visits. In addition, Cottages is home to approximately 115 children, with approximately 20-25 Cottages kids participating in each visit. AIA can reach all 115 Cottages children over the course of the school year; many, multiple times. AIA is a program that will continue after we graduate. Once it has run for a full year, it will simply require the Athletic Director’s ongoing approval and a few motivated students who will be selected to the AIA Board each school year to coordinate visits with the sports teams and Cottages staff. In addition, we plan to approach neighboring schools and explain the value of incorporating community service into their athletics programs. The schools can adopt the AIA program and partner with Cottages or another organization that serves children in need. The program can potentially touch the lives of thousands of kids.
AIA has the opportunity to give Cottages’ kids something consistent in their lives, and something to look forward to. It is gratifying to know that AIA’s efforts bring joy to children who have been through so much hardship, and help them develop physical skills. To learn more about Pleasantville Cottages School, please visit www.jccany.org
Unfortunately, given that most of the kids who live at Cottages’ are under 18 years old, we are not allowed to post photos or videos of them.