The Record-Review – The official newspaper of Bedford and Pound Ridge, New York


JUly 29, 2011

Teens make a difference at Community Center


Ali Mitchell and Michael Gadigian are working as volunteers in the pantry at the Community Center of Northern Westchester for the summer.


Skylar Adams, Ali Mitchell, Elan Elyachar-Stahl and Michael Gadigian may seem to have typical teenage summer jobs bagging groceries, organizing and sorting inventory and assisting a teacher in a cooking class. But in actuality, they are working for a reward more gratifying than money and a cause more universal than their own pocketbooks.

Skylar, Ali, Elan and Michael are four of about 45 teen volunteers at the Community Center of Northern Westchester this summer. The community center, located on Bedford Road, provides food, clothing and education to those in need and is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. It was founded in 1992 in response to an economic recession and has been accepting volunteers since shortly after its opening.

“We are trying to provide support for those in need in the community,” said assistant director of operations Clare Murray, who has been working at the community center for two years. “The most important thing we do is help those in financial hardship by providing them with food, clothing and financial resources.”

Community center clients register to visit once a month to go grocery shopping at the downstairs pantry, where they receive five and a half days worth of food for themselves and their family. They can also visit twice a month to select seasonal clothes from the boutique. Both services are free of charge and were utilized by over 1,700 families at the center last year.

‘Even if they come in with low expectations, they leave feeling as if the community center has provided them with an exciting opportunity.’

Clare Murray,
assistant director of operations

As well as offering food and clothing, the community center provides classes so that clients can educate themselves to get a job in the future, and those who don’t know how to find a job can be helped through the search and application process. Some of the classes offered are English language, construction skills, hospitality skills, basic computer skills and resume writing.

“We are keen to find ways to help those in need become more self-sufficient,” said Ms. Murray. “We are really keen that anyone who becomes a client because they are having hard times is getting the best support to not have to be a client. We are hoping it is short-term help that we are providing.”

While the primary purpose of the community center is to help those in need, a secondary goal is to provide opportunities for volunteerism and bringing the community together.

“Part of what we do is afford opportunities for people to help their neighbors,” said executive director Sherry Wolf. “A lot of the organizations that support us depend on us to live up to that and give their teens what is sometimes their first opportunity to work on their own and be part of this.”

Because the center closes at 4 p.m. on weekdays, teen volunteers are most common on Saturday mornings and in the summer. They work for one or more three-hour shifts each week side by side with adult volunteers in the donation room, food pantry or boutique.  

“They are so full of energy and enthusiasm,” said Ms. Murray. “It charges up the older volunteers who work with them, and they themselves thoroughly enjoy working with the students. For them it’s a highlight, and if they are volunteering all year round, it is a great break during the summer to have these wonderful youngsters to work with.”

Some volunteers, such as Elan, are given the opportunity to work on special projects and come to the center more often.

“We are benefiting from the fact that she is bilingual and has a great interest in workshops and education,” said Ms. Murray. “She is coming three or four days a week full time to be an assistant to that program.”

Elan is a resident of Katonah and contacted the center after returning from a five-month trip to Argentina earlier this year.

“Most of their clients are Hispanic immigrants who are not proficient in English, so I figured I would see if there was any way they could use my help,” said Elan. She is now helping with a program that teaches parents about nutrition, cooking and how to save money when grocery shopping by doing things like planning a menu for the week. At the end of the class, participants leave with ingredients for a recipe that they learned about and sampled during class.

“I really like speaking with clients and I like them to feel like we are doing this program for them, as something enjoyable and useful and practical,” said Elan. “I really like when the clients walk away happy.”

Other projects that teen volunteers have worked on in the past have been creating a social media presence for the center, doing research and administration work and helping with maintenance of the grounds by doing things like painting or weeding. They are also helpful as “ambassadors” for the community center by spreading awareness of the need and drawing in other volunteers and donors.

Though Ms. Murray said that many teen volunteers come to the center to fulfill a requirement for school or a religious group, some stay after they have completed their hours because they enjoy their work, such as 13-year-old Skylar Adams, who started volunteering in December.

“When I finished my hours for my confirmation, I decided to come back because I liked doing it and I thought it was nice to do and it was fun,” she said. “It’s made me more thankful of how fortunate I am.”

Other teenagers chose to volunteer because of the difficulty of finding employment in the current job market.

“I had no job this summer, so I felt like this would be a good way to do something and also help the community,” said 17-year-old Ali Mitchell. “You get to meet new people every time you come in.”

“I definitely feel like I’m doing something effective with my summers,” added 20-year-old Michael Gadigian.

Ms. Murray is grateful for teen volunteers because they contribute to the overall force and ability of the staff, so the center is able to tackle new projects during the summer, and also because the work they produce is very valuable. She enjoys watching them develop and become more comfortable throughout their time at the center, and believes that they are also benefited by the work that they do.

“They work to a high standard,” said Ms. Murray. “I think they feel empowered to make decisions because much of their work is a judgment call. They benefit from working with others as a team so that they get that sense of mutual support from others as well as making friendships. Even if they come in with low expectations, they leave feeling as if the community center has provided them with an exciting opportunity.”

Teens or adults who are interested in volunteering at the community center are encouraged to call or email the community center and visit

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the The Record-Review. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.


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