Sam Diamond is the kind of guy who is not afraid to get in over his head. Sure, he could have decided to cruise through high school college prep courses, but that wouldn’t be Sam. Instead, he dove into the most demanding curriculum that Stamford High had to offer, including upper-class Advanced Placement courses like Physics, Calculus, English and Environmental Sciences, and other Honors courses (going all the way back to Freshman year), earning swimmingly top grades and a spot in the National Honor Society along the way. On top of that, Sam got in even deeper with multiple extracurricular endeavors at SHS like Interact where he volunteers with the ROSCCO afterschool program at Newfield School, the SHS Leadership Academy mentoring incoming Freshmen, and he has immersed himself into the Environmental Action Committee and Students Demand Action, the student response to Parkland. He is also proud to be a multimedia editor for The Round Table, the online SHS newspaper.
Okay, sorry about all the aquatic references, but they’re not just a metaphor. Sam is also a trained lifesaver. A CPR/AED certified Life Guard, he’s lettered in varsity swimming and is a head life guard and swimming instructor for the City of Stamford. So, if you (or Bradley Cooper or Lady Gaga, even) ever find yourself “far from the shallow”, Sam Diamond is a good guy to have around.
Outside of school Sam has also made time to volunteer through the JCC with the New Covenant House serving meals, the Lox Box breakfast fundraiser for the Pacific House, the Maccabi Games where he served on its Teen Council, and the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, a Jewish teen youth organization lead by students. Also, at BBYO, Sam created a Big Brother program to help underclassmen and has served as its Vice President of Programming and Recruitment.
“Dangerous” is not typically a compliment nor a word that would spring to mind to describe a woman who tops out at five feet nothing. Still in 1902 when mining industry leaders used it to describe activist Mary Harris (“Mother Jones”), a courageous labor organizer and child safety advocate, because their brutal industry practices were threatened by her activism, it meant she was making a difference. But even so, no one then could have known Ms. Harris’ full impact, because about a century later another, equally petite woman, would be born to be inspired by her.
Stamford High Senior Shayna Druckman has rounded out a stellar academic career with a passion for activism, a long list of influences in addition to Ms. Harris (especially her Mom, herself an activist, and her Dad, a selfless soul), and a longer list of achievements. As the founder of Students Demand Action, a school safety organization she created in response to the Parkland MSD tragedy, she served as a student leader for Stamford’s March for Our Lives. She’s also headed Friendly Faces—dedicated to improving high school for special needs students, and participated in Leadership Academy providing student mentorship, the Abilis Youth Board, Interact, and the Environmental Action Club. She is also the editor-in-chief of the Round Table, Stamford High’s online newspaper, guided by Mr. Ringel, her journalism teacher.
In a lengthy and effusive COTY recommendation from State Rep. Matthew Blumenthal where he expressed his gratitude for her talents, her “sunny disposition” and hard work as an intern, he said “I am even more grateful that she will be using them to better our community and our world.” Stamford High Principal Raymond Manka said of her Friendly Faces participation “it is because of Shayna’s leadership and support” that club membership doubled and increased “community awareness of our special needs population in the mainstream setting”. And with these endorsements comes another just this month—Stamford History Center named her one of the Five Women Leaders of Tomorrow.
Shayna has other interests. A lifelong and sometimes competitive dancer, she favors tap because “you have to give all of your concentration to the steps and the sounds, which is a great way to relieve stress and be completely in the moment.” She also enjoys cooking, laughing, chatting and making up songs.
Shayna Druckman is indeed dangerous. And just like Mother Jones, COTY believes Shayna should take that as a compliment!
Ask this Stamford High Senior what motivates him and at first, he reflects inwardly. His passion for fitness, sports and in his (rare) quiet time, drawing and art, are all focused on self-improvement and self-expression. But if you ask any of the many not-for-profit organizations where he has spent countless hours helping others, there’s no “self” in Eliel at all. From Operation Pathways at Bayview Towers, where he performed maintenance, gardening and some office work, to Stamford Public Education Foundation, where he mentors fifth graders, to places like New Covenant Center, the Palace Theater, Mill River Park, Inspirica, Person to Person, Fairgate Farm and the Ferguson Library, Eliel has earned a solid reputation for selflessness and reliability.
Future 5, a now ten-year-old Stamford organization dedicated to setting a positive path for our youth (and a pretty reliable source of COTY Scholarship winners) is a pretty lucky connection for lots of kids. But according to its founder, Clif McFeely, in 2015 Future 5 had a bit of luck itself when Eliel signed up—and not merely signed up, but jumped right in. Clif says as a high performing student and a varsity athlete in Lacrosse, “I don’t know how Eliel has the time to accomplish all of this, but Future 5 and the Stamford community are the beneficiaries of this remarkable young man’s positive energy, drive and character.” Regan Allen of SPEF says “with his enthusiastic demeanor, he is the mentor assigned to work with elementary school students who may be disengaged or having a bad day, because I know his unwavering support will give them the confidence to participate.”
Eliel credits his parents for providing him with a strong work ethic, moral guidance, and love, and thanks Future 5 and 100 Black Men of Stamford (and their monthly speaker program) for giving him the inspiration to reach high. Eliel will attend college in the fall and hopes for a career in physical therapy because for all this remarkable young man’s interests, he is by far the most interested in healing others.
Stamford COTY is pleased to help Eliel help others with a 2019 Scholarship.
With about 1,600 program participants, the Boys and Girls Club of Stamford sees a lot of talented youth each year, but none more dedicated or involved than Stamford High Senior Maureen Ferrer. As the BGC at Yerwood Center’s 2019 Youth of the Year and Keystone Club (the Ultimate Teen Program) President, Maureen has spent countless hours at organizing and participating in fundraising and outreach events like City Chic, BGC Christmas Dinners and Breakfast of Champions, bingo nights, bake sales, pop-up stores and the Stamford High Holiday Fair, and is a BGC art teacher and counselor. She’s served as BGC’s S.M.A.R.T. Girls facilitator mentoring second grade girls, and helped with so many other programs it’s hard to list them all here. Melissa Stanley of BGC says “Maureen is an exceptional student who has been able to balance school, extracurricular activities and her business effortlessly.” Dwayne Stephenson of BGC observed that “her passion for art and helping others has flourished tremendously since she was younger, and it shows in everything that she is involved in.”
Maureen has the eye of an artist and has generously shared her sense of style, volunteering with Kids Helping Kids Dress Boutique, helping about 1000 Stamford girls in finding clothing and accessories, and has shared her gift for giving with KHK’s Gift of Giving annual holiday program. She’s also an annual volunteer for the Marc US for Change Race (Future Business Leaders of America), and for her big brother Dave, who coordinates the BGC Stamford 5K race among other not-for-profit endeavors.
At Stamford High, Maureen has distinguished herself academically, especially in the arts where she is a member of the National Arts Honor Society and an AP student in Studio Art. But she also has a knack for business (an AP student in microeconomics) and is going to Central Connecticut State University to major in marketing and entrepreneurship.
And she has a head start. A budding entrepreneur, Maureen created @MosClothingCo and @Mo_thePainter. To get an idea of just how much talent Maureen has to offer, visit them on Instagram!
Maureen credits her big brother Dave, Melissa Stanley and especially mentor James Kendall for inspiring her fearless approach to life and art. COTY is happy to award Maureen a 2019 Scholarship
We are not sure if there is a minimum age for mensch-hood (or even if that’s a word), but if not, Jacob is definitely a prime contender. As a Stamford High senior with an excellent academic record that lists numerous Honors and AP courses, one might get the impression that Jacob spends all of his spare time discussing erudite concepts with other student elites. And if so, one would be incorrect. Rather, Jacob has devoted the spare time in his young career teaching, mentoring and most of all, being a friend to kids with special needs.
Deeply involved in organizations like Friendship Circle, JumpStart at the JCC, Interact, and the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, Jacob has earned a reputation as one who is “cheerful, reliable and responsible” according to the Director of Congregational Learning at Temple Beth El, Lisa Gittelmen Udi. She notes that Jacob “has helped make our educational program stronger and for the past 5 plus years, he has enriched the lives of many children in the Stamford community.”
One of these special children, seven-year-old Aaron, was lucky enough to meet Jacob through Friendship Circle. His mom, Stacey wrote to COTY about the many therapeutic appointments that have occupied so much of his young life. “But then Jacob came along. He is simply there to be Aaron’s friend—no therapy, no judgment; just there to be his friend. How nice is that?” Stacey said Jacob is “creative and kind” and “has a whole lot of patience.” When Jacob visits she says, “it’s Aaron’s favorite part of the week.”
Jacob credits his parents (whom among other things turned him onto his “current” favorite artist, Billy Joel), his BBYO mentors David Giver and David Klein, and especially his Grandpa (and their joint international rock collection) for inspiration and guidance along the way. Oh, and he also gives a shout out to Ferris Bueller who said “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it.” We don’t think Jacob Herz is likely to miss anything.
Stamford COTY is proud to have a mensch like Jacob earn a 2019 Scholarship. As Aaron’s Mom would say, how nice is that?
Among the many inspirations for invention, none are more poignant than tragedy. So it was that as a Rippowam Middle School student, Lauren Klym was struck by the sight of so many panicked parents picking up their children on the morning of Sandy Hook. Then, when Parkland happened last February, Lauren, a lifelong Girl Scout and then a Westhill High School junior, took particular notice of one Marjory Stoneman Douglas student who said she had been especially frightened because the substitute teacher that had been assigned to her class on that horrific day may have lacked the knowledge or training to safeguard her classroom. With that, Lauren went to work. With input from the Stamford Police, the school faculty and administration and her own research, she developed a schoolwide lockdown plan comprised of individual room layouts (that she spent a summer drawing herself), check lists and procedures for posting in each classroom. Perhaps most impressive is that she recognized the panic that would prevail if it had to be employed, and so designed it for quick consumption for different kinds of readers, the verbal and the visual.
Lauren did not stop there—Stamford Education for Autism, SPEF, Interact, LandD Crew Director, Bridges Academy, Stamford FFA, Abilis Youth Board and the Lacrosse team have all benefitted from Lauren’s enthusiasm. According to her very impressed Westhill Principal (and before that, Rippowam assistant principal), Michael Rinaldi, “from the moment I met Lauren it was very apparent that she was a kind and happy young person of exceptional character who was also very dedicated to her studies . . . now what’s even more apparent is that this excellent student has also grown in to an incredibly talented student leader.” Of Lauren’s pursuit of a Girl Scout Gold Award (its highest honor) her co-leader, Nicole Sandford said “I’ve watched her pursue higher education with discipline, rigor, and passion. Frankly, I don’t know that I’ve seen anyone put as much thoughtful effort into this process.”
Lauren, who is inspired by her Mom’s amazing ability to multitask, and by other strong women leaders like Indra Nooyi, loves this quote from Mahatma Gandhi: "Be the change you wish to see in the world." And she also lives it. Just this month, Stamford History Center named her one of the Five Women Leaders of Tomorrow.
Stamford COTY is proud to participate in Lauren’s bright future by awarding her a 2019 Scholarship
When this outstanding AITE Senior told us “to understand the present, you must understand the past” she was referring to the sacrifices her parents, who emigrated from Haiti thirty years ago, have made working long hours to provide for her and her siblings a chance at the American Dream. By taking that opportunity and turning it into a high school career worthy of the National Honor Society, the National Science Honor Society, the Pillar of Character and other accolades, she affirms the success and wisdom of an even deeper history—our American Experiment.
Also, a first-generation college student (attending UCONN in the fall), Claudia has embraced her heritage while plunging headlong into a future that she hopes, and we expect, will include a career in medicine. As Head Acolyte of St. John’s Episcopal Haitian Congregation (in which she assists the priest during weekly services), she has also been a church camp counselor and versatile volunteer since she was nine years old. As a member of Future 5, she’s spent countless hours helping at places like the Stamford Food Bank, Inspirica, ARI’s Walk for Independence, Veteran’s Park Dog Tag Project and others. As a member of the Medical Mentorship Club and the Perry Initiative, she has had hands on experience in her future career as a nurse practitioner or physician.
She has relied on many mentors, and earned many fans at AITE, Future 5, and St. John’s. Her guidance counselor Maria DeAntonis sums it up: “Claudia is an outstanding individual with infinite promise.” Her Honors Physics teacher, Bing Yang, calls her “hardworking and serious” who thinks about what she hears.” Her teacher Dr. Samah Chadli cites her “trustworthiness and caring” as standout traits while she has chosen to take the hardest courses and earned the “Academic Excellence Award distinguishing her as a top student in the Biomedical Program.”
If Claudia were receiving an Academy Award, the music would start long before she finished her thank-you’s: “Future 5--Clif, Lise, Deirdre, Maddie, Nancy, Raul, Polly, Rachel, and Jane; St. John’s Episcopal Church: Haitian Congregation; my guidance counselor Mrs. DeAntonis, my teachers Mrs. Middleton, Dr. Chadli, Ms. Yang; and most of all, my mentor Sharon Katz.”
Stamford COTY is also proud to be a small part of Claudia’s future, and that makes us feel just a little more patriotic.
"There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up." By living these / words by author John Andrew Holmes in the few years that have spanned his high school career, Will Gold must have developed a heart like Secretariat.
For Will, there is no substitute for the feeling he gets when he helps others, and he gets that feeling a whole lot. A dedicated member of the not-for-profit Friendship Circle since 2014, Will has participated with enthusiasm in their MVP program, the Friends at Home Program, and their Children's Circle Program, all dedicated to assisting children with special needs through sports, music, art therapy and storytelling. But most of all, for Will, it is about the power of friendship, and his easy manner and enthusiasm has spread to the other teen volunteers. That's why he's been appointed to the Friendship Circle Teen Board, where he leads others, organizing events, planning programs and recruiting other volunteers, with heart.and his dedication is not just reserved for the little ones. Will has also volunteered at Brighton Gardens Senior Living Facility ever since his high school career began. There he serves meals, sings, dances and entertains the residents. He's even
been given a regular seat at the bridge table something that's turned into a passion. Of bridge (and portending much more)
Will says "I have learned that while you may not always get the best hand, you make the best of what you have." Lori Gunn, the Brighton Business Director said about Will "I even struggle with the word 'volunteer'," because he has become so much more to the residents and staff.
In seeming defiance of the time space continuum (his favorite author is Sci-Fi icon Ray Bradbury) Will is also a certified EMT who volunteers with Greenwich EMS, he is a member of the National Honor Society, and the Westhill High School Leadership and Development Crew. He credits his parents and family for showing him that while anything is possible, you have to make what is probable. He is especially inspired by his grandfather Michael Gleiberman, a holocaust survivor and to Will, a hero.
Nikhil Anil Rao
73rd Annual Citizen of the Tear —
With a 4.0 GPA Nikhil may enjoy a #1 ranking at Stamford High, but that is just one in a long list of accomplishments for this good-hearted senior. Having shown extraordinary leadership as a Senior Patrol Leader for a troop of 45 scouts for Boy Scout Troop 9, Nikhil achieved the rank of Eagle Scout after spearheading a project rebuilding Stamford's kayak racks at Cove Beach. Other projects (and there were many) included community and church clean-ups, fundraisers and mentoring other Eagle Scout candidates to complete their projects, all of which have benefited the Stamford community.
At Stamford High, Nikhil founded and leads SHS Gives Back, a club whose motto "For Students, By Students" is fulfilled everyday by his empathy and dedication, and by other students he has recruited with his enthusiasm. He created an in-house food pantry that feeds over 45 fellow Stamford High families on a weekly basis. Nikhil developed and manages the restocking and distribution processes, and the many other students he's recruited ensures that SHS Gives Back doesn't end when he graduates.
After a tragic accident involving a fellow student, Nikhil sponsored a Go-Fund Me page that raised over $60,000 toward the expenses that had befallen the family. When another student's family was in danger of eviction after a parent was diagnosed with cancer and couldn't work, Nikhil raised rent money and helped the other parent find a part time job to lessen their financial hardships and still allow therapeutic time at home together. He also created an annual SHS coat drive, which gathered over 220 winter coats for the needy this past December, and because of his organizational skills, it too will survive past Nikhil's graduation.
Under Nikhil's leadership, SHS Gives Back also tutors other students in Math and Science and helps middle schoolers build a proper foundation for their high school careers. As a member of the National Honor Society and the All Student Congress, he has participated in numerous projects designed to beautify Stamford High and to instill in its students a sense of community pride. In the words of the Dean of Students, Michelle Malave, Nikhil "has enacted each program without breaking the confidentiality of the students in need while still ensuring that every student's basic needs of clothes, food, and shelter are provided to them, so they can focus on obtaining a strong education."
Josh is one of those people that understands that if you just do what is expected of you, you will never really learn what you're capable of. And so even if his parents and his many mentors, scoutmasters, coaches and advisors, had always expected him to be a straight A student, an Eagle Scout and a two-sport varsity athlete, well, he has still surprised them. Inspired by figures like Teddy Roosevelt and Neil deGrasse Tyson, Josh has done even more than that.
Space doesn't permit a listing of all of Joshua's accomplishments, but we will try. As a Boy Scout, he rose from Patrol Leader to Senior Patrol Leader to Eagle Scout. As an Eagle Scout, Josh earned the respect and gratitude of the Bartlett Arboretum when he led 27 scout volunteers in "a project of historical significance" in the restoration of the "Pollarded Tree Garden," an experimental section that had been planted in the 1920s by Francis Bartlett himself for the study of arboreal insect damage. Other scout projects have included removal of invasive species at the Bartlett, the Memorial Day planting of American flags on veterans' graves in two Stamford cemeteries, numerous fundraisers, community cleanups, and serving on the Boy Scout's Color Guard for parades on Veterans' Day, Memorial Day, and for COTY and Vietnam Veterans' ceremonies.
As a member of the B'nai B'rith Youth Organization, Josh has served as Project Leader, Vice President of Community Service and Vice President of Communications, and as a volunteer at Brighton Gardens, the Stamford DSSD Thanksgiving Parade. Also with BBYO, Josh has prepared and delivered food to the Pacific House Homeless Shelter, among many other endeavors. As a Westhill Agriscience student he became a member and Vice President of the Stamford Regional Chapter of the FFA (Future Farmers of America), where he has organized regular meetings, mentored younger students, and provided regular assistance with animal care and farm maintenance, including at the Stamford Museum & Nature Center where he has also volunteered at the annual Maple Sugar and Harvest Fest events. Josh has also raised funds for the Stamford Men's Shelter and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, among other worthy organizations.
Josh made the varsity wrestling team as a freshman, and as a pole vaulter with the Westhill Track Team, he won the Connecticut Junior Olympics in 2016 and has regularly placed at or near the top in FCIAC and State High School CIAC tournaments. And since he obviously has no fear of heights (real or metaphorical), Josh has also competed in bouldering (rock climbing) with success.
It's one thing to volunteer to help established charities provide services to those in need, and there certainly is nothing wrong with that. But it is quite another thing when it's the organization itself that needs help. And that's when you need someone like Kiran Jagtiani.
BuildOn is an international not-for-profit organization devoted to the causes of global education and volunteer service. Members participate in local volunteer service opportunities, raise awareness of global issues related to education and poverty and fundraise to build schools in developing countries. In the 2015-2016 school year, BuildOn had terminated its Stamford High chapter due to a lack of sponsorship. But Kiran wouldn't have it. In the words of her adviser and varsity tennis coach, Matt Gladstone, she "immediately started brainstorming," and privy to the tastes of her classmates, engineered a chocolate dipped pretzel sale that jumpstarted the chapter's renewal. And from that day on, with Kiran as its president, BuildOn has been going strong at Stamford High, sponsoring fundraising and awareness raising events like Spirit Wear sales and Stamford High's own Color Run, among others.
That achievement, coupled with a stellar academic record would be enough for many, but not for Kiran. Her enviable service record also includes two years as a volunteer counselor at Peak Performance Sports Camp, tutoring for Creative Learning at the First Presbyterian Church. Kiran also was chosen among other extraordinary students to serve as a primary care center volunteer at the Yale-New Haven Hospital, where she shared stories and arts and crafts projects with seriously ill patients in 2015 and 2016.
In school, she's the editor-in-chief of the Stamford High School Roundtable (the school newspaper), the treasurer of the National Art Honors Society, and a varsity tennis player. She's also on the Executive Committee of the Mayor's Youth Leadership Council, which spreads awareness concerning social issues facing Stamford's youth.
Kiran has also participated in many volunteer projects for the Sathya Sai Center in Norwalk, which is a non-denominational service organization based upon the principle of personal responsibility for ethical transformation through selfless love and service. Her many projects (over the course of 10 years!) have included serving at the Stamford Soup Kitchen, cooking for Domus students, participating in the Domus Health Fair, the Inter-faith Walk-a-thon for hunger awareness, and teaching younger children the lessons of inter-faith unity and community harmony.
If you get, give. If you learn, teach." So reads Mishel's favorite inspirational quote by Maya Angelou. If she mere directly speaking about Mishel, however Ms. Angelou would have probably had to pick up her pen again and add: "And if you did all that, do more."
It is a wonder Mishel has even had the time to go to school given her incredible roster of extracurricular and charitable projects. For starters, she is the creator and founder of Beds for Pets, a now growing organization of high school students dedicated to helping local animal shelters purchase needed supplies and to help enhance their adoption rate, through fundraising, social media, merchandising, and sponsoring and attending events like the CT Pet Expo.
Mishel is also highly regarded as an intern with the Stamford Police Department Crime Scene Unit, where she has spent many nights and weekends studying and assisting with forensics like collecting and processing evidence at actual crime scenes. She's also a member of the Norwalk Public Safety Cadets which is a law enforcement and firefighting training youth organization that provides a variety of volunteer services for the community.
At Westhill, in addition to being a senior in the Agri- science Program, she is Vice President of ALTA (Aspiring Leadership Through Action), which provides after school and Saturday programs for students to help prepare them in academic, college readiness, and social, emotional and family support. She is also the Head Manager of the Westhill Boys' Basketball Team, a member of the Stamford Regional Agri-science and Technology Program, and a volunteer coordinator for the Girls Group which engages incoming students and helps guide them on the right path.
Outside of school, Mishel is also a volunteer with the Stamford Museum (Si Nature Center, where she helps teach animal husbandry to the public as well as helps care for the animals themselves. She is also a youth support volunteer with the Domus Leadership Program, assisting incoming freshmen to prepare for the high school challenges that await them. Mishel's energy, spirit and enthusiasm for helping others seems boundless. But just as Maya Angelou would have hoped, when Mishel gets credit, she is quick to give it, and mostly it's to her Mom. About her she says "has sacrificed a lot of herself to see me succeed and to be someone in life" and that "she never complains about helping me... picking me up morning, noon, and night... even after .. a long shift at work" and "she has taught me to have a caring heart towards everyone."a
The good folks at Domus who run the multifaceted Chester Addison Community Center count themselves as lucky that Ayna's (in their words) "calm demeanor," "poise," "academic brilliance," "perseverance," "cheerfulness," "humility," "passion" and "heartfelt dedication" are in no small part invested with them, enhancing their many and diverse youth programs. You would have to pull out a thesaurus to find more effusive superlatives than Makeda Green and Michael Hyman used to describe Ayna in their scholarship recommendations. And during this "extraordinary young woman's" high school career Ayna has been a volunteer in so many of their varied programs and elsewhere, one would have to add "versatile" too.
For starters, as a two-sport high school varsity scholar-athlete, Ayna has coached basketball (the "Mighty Mights"), fitness, softball and soccer at CACC for the past three years where she inspires all those around her as a coach, counselor and peer leader and she leads by example. She volunteers in the Girls Leadership Group, a mentoring partnership with the Stamford Police Department that also fundraises, serves the less fortunate and removes graffiti from public places. She also leads the Reptile Club, a STEM based club teaching reptile anatomy, genetics and animal care. She even presents to the community at an annual Reptile Immersion Day in an "impressive" fashion, say those who have witnessed it.
And speaking of STEM, Ayna mentors computer coding for the kids at CACC. After a study abroad trip to Spain to experience the emergence of technology in urban culture, she returned to mentor a group of kids in creating a meaningful app for nonprofits at the Random Hacks of Kindness Hackathon. She also brought her experience studying engineering in a STEM program at Fordham University to help her teach her Domus kids.
She has made other contributions as well. Ayna has traveled to Costa Rica to perform landscaping and construction work for families in need, and she is a member of Reach Prep, an educational organization that assists underserved, high-achieving Black and Latino students to graduate from top colleges, where she has volunteered as a student ambassador and represented her school in a panel for younger students and their families.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, that's the only thing that ever has." One could improve this Margaret Mead quote (Marissa's favorite) by adding, "especially if Marissa Young is there with them."
With a 4.0 GPA, Marissa is not merely a highly ranked student in Stamford High's senior class-although that's certainly not a bad start. She is, in the words of guidance counselor Bobby Augustyn (one who is well known to the COTY Committee for his words) "totally immersed in all aspects of life in our school and community" with "authenticity and compassion," and "embraces life with a determination to have a positive impact on the lives of others."
A dedicated volunteer in the JumpStart Preschool at the Jewish Community Center (since she was just 12!), Marissa has spent literally hundreds of hours helping small children with special needs navigate their way to preschool and beyond. In her effusive recommendation to the COTY Scholarship Committee, Nancy Herz, JumpStart's head teacher, said Marissa brought "an amazing smile and energy" that built "confidence and trust with both parents and children."
Marissa is an active and generous member of her synagogue. At Temple Beth El, she has tutored students in Hebrew and cultural Judaism, taught pre-K students, and even prepared seventh graders for Bar and Bat Mitzvah. She's also a B'nai B'rith Youth Organization leader, raising money and awareness for suicide prevention, veterans' causes, and hunger and childhood illness prevention.
At Stamford High, she is Vice President of the Friendly Faces Club, which welcomes special needs students into the school community and coordinates events and activities to optimize their high school experience. And, she is a Student Mentor for the Leadership Academy which helps guide the social and academic growth of underclassmen.
Marissa has also volunteered for the Maccabi Games as a Teen Leadership Council member, and a Color Run Committee member. If that's not enough (though it certainly is), she's been a Friends at Home volunteer for the Friendship Circle, visiting the homes of special needs children and bringing them experiential learning in arts and crafts, music and storytelling. Marissa says she owes her sense of commitment to those who need her to her parents, who inspire her every day.
How do you spell leadership? We spell it D-a-n-i-e-l because Daniel Altamura represents exactly that for so many. Totally immersed in all aspects Stamford, both in the community and at Stamford High School, Daniel embraces service with a determination, drive and focus so that he has a positive impact on the lives of others.
As a mentor in the Stamford Public Education Foundation, Daniel served as a role model for at-risk 5th grade students where, through workbook activities, he emphasized the importance of community service and building positive relationships. As a political intern on the Board of Education, Daniel was tasked with not only maintaining its social media outlets, but also designing and distributing materials for public
displays and outreach at community events. During election seasons, he could be found at polling stations around the City communicating with the public and garnering support for the BOE. As a volunteer at Stamford Hospital, his activities ran the gamut from greeting and guiding visitors and family members through the hospital to delivering gifts and flowers to patients’ rooms to serving in Facilities Management where he invoiced repairs, organized mailings, answered phones and dispatched repair services.
That he was chosen by his peers as President of his Senior Class reflects Daniel’s gift to galvanize individuals, while raising the achievement level of all involved. This was regularly seen in how he represented his class to ensure success of its various proposed initiatives as well as in the numerous SHS activities in which he volunteered. His efforts were focused on improving school spirit and introducing the community to all that SHS has to offer. Daniel also served as the SHS student representative on the City of Stamford Governance Council where his responsibilities included multidisciplinary communica-tion among the administration, faculty, parents, community and Board of Education members on issues ranging from student achievement to school culture.
A rare blend of spirituality, tenacity and dedication –that’s what Gaby Baum has and uses to encourage others to become involved in our community. If you spend any time with her you cannot help but be struck by the ease and self-assurance she displays when interacting with others in her volunteerism...and you want to join her.
A long-time volunteer with The Friendship Circle, Gaby is passionate about helping children with special needs. She not only works weekly with her special friend, she also serves on TFC’s Teen Board, taking on leadership roles for events and planning programs. Her involvement and fresh ideas have enabled TFC to support a growing number of families.
Gaby’s involvement in Youth Philanthropy Connect, a youth-founded and led program that works to encourage youth philanthropy and to hone the skills of future philanthropists, led her to join its Leadership Team. She is also a member of United Jewish Federation and the Kuriansky Teen Tzedakah Corps. Additionally, Gaby has been working to create her own program, SMILE –So Much In Life (to) Enjoy. It is for local youth who want to be more involved in Stamford in a productive way. Through SMILE she engages peers to experience the benefits of giving and to feel the delight and accomplishment that come with volunteering.
In addition, Gaby is on the boards of FARE: Food Allergy Research & Education (advisory), the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Connection Team and J-Serve ’s International Day of Community Service as well as a member of B’nai Brith Youth Organization. She serves as a Student Ambassador at AITE (Academy of Information Technology & Engineering, Stamford) and is in its RSPACEE program where she teaches STEM-based courses to elementary school students. Gaby is also a National Honor Society member and tutor.
That whirlwind of energy, that whoosh that just flew by…that was Mandy Chery off to one of her community services projects. In fact, Mandy has given more than 2,100 hours of service over the past few years…that equals nearly 265 eight-hour workdays!
A first-generation Haitian American, Mandy is the “go to” youth leader at the First Haitian Free Methodist Church where she inspires a sense of purpose and possibility in others. Just a few examples include being a founding member, and now co-director, of the youth choir; helping launch an outreach to youth and young adults; and being the treasurer of its youth praise dance team, where she organized bake sales and performances at community events. Mandy also chaired an innovative micro-enterprise project for the church’s young adults, sponsored by EA Rugby Design, that enabled teen congregants to learn about business while participating in sales and earning money for the Youth Ministry.
In addition to serving her congregation, Mandy has demonstrated her commitment to the larger Stamford community, pouring endless energy into other organizations. During her work with Future 5, a nonprofit that helps motivated, low-income high school students to fill their potential, she served as an official Student Ambassador, assisting peers through the college process, co-hosting open houses for volunteers and donors, and coaching for its job preparatory program. Also, through Future 5 projects, Mandy mentored elementary school students at the Boys and Girls Club, planted and weeded at Mill River Park, and worked at Neighbors Link’s café. She has served on the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council, was a mentor at Roxbury School for the Stamford Public Education Foundation and vice president of Westhill’s BuildOn chapter. Mandy has volunteered with Best Buddies, Inspirica as well as with Person-to-Person and the Quisqueya Summer Camp at St. John’s Episcopal Church. How she also found time to run track and be a shot putter at Westhill remains a mystery!
An Inspiration. An advocate. A motivator. A teacher. These are just a few of the words that describe the many hats Andrea Vega wears wherever she goes in Stamford.
Andrea’s work with Neighbors Link Stamford demonstrates her unique talents. NLS is a nonprofit community center on the west side of the city whose mission is to strengthen the whole community by actively enhancing the healthy integration of immigrants. With her native Spanish language skills, passion to help her community and ability to seize an opportunity, she has become an integral part of NLS’s
teaching large ELS (English as a second language) classes and tutoring small groups. And she does this, and more, on weekdays after school, evenings and weekends. Andrea’s success with children, peers and adult learners has been incredible.
In addition to NLS, Andrea is involved with Westhill High School’s ALTA (Aspiring Leadership Through Action) an after-school and Saturday program for students, with a focus on Spanish-speaking students, to provide high-quality coaching and mentoring to prepare them for success in high school and college. At ALTA she participated weekly, and was recognized for her leadership there, becoming a tutor and translator for the program. She also tutors in the school’s Success Program, has served as a WHS Latino Ambassador, is a member of its BuildOn and Future 5 chapters, and its music band, playing the guitar. Additionally, Andrea is a reporter for WHS’ school paper, The Westword, and a youth board member and volunteer on WHS’ New Paradigm Theater.
Andrea is also a volunteer at Person-to-Person and Domus, translating at both and administering at the former for its food bank and clothing store; a teacher’s assistant at SoundWaters; and a choir assistant and guitar player at Sacred Heart Church. All in all, Andrea’s love of what she does is infectious as seen by the results across the City.
Passionate. Authentic. Giving. In short, a mensch. This describes Justin Wexler perfectly. For those of you not familiar with what it means to be a mensch, it is to be someone of integrity who helps others, does the right thing the right way, acts with conviction, is a peacemaker and always strives to be a better person.
Justin was selected by Stamford High School’s vice principal and dean of students to be a founding member of the SHS Leadership Academy where he mentored freshmen, advised on how to be successful in high school, encouraged under classmates to participate in school government and policies, as well as community and school events. One of two students appointed from the Class of 2017 to SHS’s Athletic
Council Board, Justin helped organize and execute schoolwide fundraisers and events, such as the Pink Out, which raised more than $16,000 for breast cancer organizations. He also was elected by his peers to serve on the school’s Executive Board, also leading events that have raised thousands of dollars.
Justin has been an active leader and volunteer at the Stamford Jewish Community Center, most notably in its Macaabi Games & ArtsFest. (Olympic-style sporting competitions held each summer in North America and the second largest organized sports program for Jewish teenagers in the world.) A veteran participant, Justin served as Teen Council Representative, recruiting and promoting engagement, providing counsel to professional staff and volunteers, and serving during the events as part of the Operations team for the 1,500 teens competing. During his many years of membership with the Stamford chapter of B’Nai Brith Youth Organization, Justin has been active in local, regional and international programming as well as being on the chapter’s Leadership Board. In addition, since his junior year, Justin has been its treasurer, leading fundraising initiatives that showcased his dedication and spirit.
Totally immersed in all aspects of life at Stamford High and our community, Eve Critelli contributes to everything she does in a special way, reflecting what Bruce Barton wrote: “If you have anything valuable to contribute to the world, it will come through the expression of your own personality.” Eve, who gives from the heart with her charismatic personality, compassion and determination, she is able to galvanize and lead her peers, helping all around her to make a difference.
As a member and treasurer of Stamford High’s Interact Club, Eve has volunteered with Big Brother/Big Sister in the ROSCCO (Rogers School Community Center Organization) After School Program at Springdale Elementary School, assisting students with homework, reading and participating in sports and art projects. She also served at ROSCCO’s summer program tutoring, and creating and facilitating games and other projects. With Interact Eve has also coordinated coin drives for the American Red Cross, volunteered at many Stamford Museum & Nature Center events and fundraised for Camp Promise, a camp for children with muscular dystrophy.
As president of Stamford High’s National Honor Society, Eve orchestrated its freshmen orientation, organized tutoring events as well as blood drives. She also is a mentor with the Stamford Public Education Foundation, meeting regularly with two 5th grade girls on activities to promote community involvement and encourage their academic success. Also active in the Beyond Limits Academic Program, Eve tutors members of the Stamford Peace basketball team as well as middle and high school aged students in math and science. And as a junior volunteer at Stamford Hospital, Eve was a member of the Sunshine Team, making crafts and delivering them to patients to brighten their day and hopefully make their stay an easier one.
When Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote “I find the great thing in the world is not so much where you stand, but in what direction you are moving,” he easily could have been describing how Shayla Farrow approaches life. From her involvement with buildOn to AVID to Inspirica to the Stamford Public Education Fund, Shayla brings to all her community service activities a strong conviction and a drive to make a difference.
As an active participant and leader in buildOn, Shayla serves as its social media officer team and helps to run and promote various service projects at Stamford High. Through buildOn she became involved with Inspirica, one of Fairfield County’s largest service providers for the homeless, in a range of activities. Working as an employment researcher, Shayla identified available jobs in the Stamford-to-Bridgeport area and often conferenced and coached one-on-one with residents identified as capable of filling these positions. As a researcher, she also gathered valuable information on homelessness and hunger. But wait, there’s more: Shayla also cooked meals in the women’s shelter and read to the small children living there.
As a member of the Stamford Public Education Fund, Shayla mentored two 5th grade girls at Stark Elementary, meeting with them weekly, sharing school experiences and the importance of gratitude and community service. And as Club Leader for AVID, Advancement Via Individual Determination, Shayla led countless volunteer activities, organizing fundraising events, taking a lead in group assignments and assisting other members with tutorials or homework. A member of the National Honors Society, Shayla also has served for several years as a board member of Stamford’s Student Advisory Council as well as the treasurer of One World, One Family, managing all financials aspects of the organization.
“Good friends are hard to find, difficult to leave and impossible to forget.” That’s how Stamford High School senior Doron Feller has described the friendships he has made over the past six years as a committed volunteer with The Friendship Circle. It’s not surprising that the many special needs children that Doron has worked with throughout many semesters, holidays and summers all have left as much a lifelong impact on him as he has made on them.
With the Children’s Circle, Doron mentored and developed friendships with a school-age child and a teenager, each of whom had special, but different, needs. Mentoring them regularly in a group setting for more than five years, they focused on life skills ranging from physical fitness and cooking to art and music. With the Friends At Home program, Doron mentored and developed a very special friendship with Zach, an autistic school-aged boy. For more than four years Doron has worked, played, explored and shared Zach’s world. He has become Zach’s confidant and partner. Doron has also served with The Friendship Circle’s Holiday and Special Programming efforts as well as being a member of its Teen Board.
Additionally Doron, who is a member of the National Honor Society, serves as president of three organizations: Future Business Leaders of America, Stamford chapter and manager of its school store and the 15+ fellow students that volunteer there; NCSY, formerly known as the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, which focuses on providing outreach, support for teenage members of the Stamford Jewish community as well as weekly events with Jewish teens from other communities; Jewish Students Union, Stamford high school chapter, which is dedicated to providing members with experiences, activities and current event discussions
When Hannah Katz wrote that “being a Friendship Circle volunteer has broadened my perspective on what it takes to be happy and how little we need to make that happen,” she showed wisdom and insight beyond her age. As a volunteer in the Friendship Circle, Hannah has dedicated many hours to enable her buddy Maya to experience happiness and friendship.
Additionally her service with the Stamford Chapter of the B’nai Brith Youth Organization has made a mark on the group and our community. In her first position, as chapter historian, she created the chapter’s mascot, Flat Penguin, a takeoff of the well-known children’s book series Flat Stanley. Every week a girl would be nominated to take Flat Penguin home to do a good deed – a mitzvah – with him. During that time, she takes a picture of Flat Penguin showing the activity, which is placed in a scrapbook chronicling the year’s mitzvahs. Three years later, Flat Penguin is now a tradition, receiving him is an honor that promotes service and kindness.
As the chapter’s Vice President of Jewish Heritage, Community Service and Social Action, Hannah was the driving force of its Stand Up cause, Children with Special Needs, as well as organizer of fundraising and other efforts, including Relay For Life. Hannah’s leadership has not gone unnoticed by her peers as they elected her chapter president this year. She also has been president of Westhill High’s Interact Club for the past two years. And for the past 12 years with her family, Hannah has helped serve Christmas Eve dinner to men at the Shelter for the Homeless for the past 12 years, where she “always leaves knowing that these men were treated with the respect they deserve.”
Oscar Wilde must have known when he wrote “to have become a deeper man is the privilege for those who have suffered” that Nii Pobee would grace our community with his amazing open, kind heart and ability to rise above adversity to not only better himself, but also those around him.
Growing up on the east side of Stamford, Nii has been an active leader in the East Side Partnership, volunteering his time to support revitalizing his neighborhood taking on all sorts of things -- from removing graffiti from walls to picking up garbage and abandoned items and working in a community garden to mentoring two troubled teenagers also living there. As a role model for many, particularly these two boys, Nii has been a “gentle giant”, sheltering them with his caring, solid presence, all of which is providing him with real experience for what he plans to do in the future – to become an adolescent psychologist or a high school teacher.
A devoted, generous and diligent volunteer for several other organizations, Nii, who many know as a key starter on the Stamford High varsity basketball team, has been an active member of FUTURE 5. He was one of the first to get in on the ground floor of FUTURE 5’s service efforts, again demonstrating his commitment to community service. He has worked on projects at the Food Bank of Fairfield County, Mill River Park, New Covenant House Soup Kitchen, Person-to-Person and St. Mark’s Mayfair, to name a few! Nii has also tutored elementary school children at the Yerwood Center and worked as a bicycle mechanic at Domus Kid’s Trafigura Work & Learn Business Center, where he fixed and cleaned broken bikes that were redistributed free to youth in the community.
From the young to the aging, Renee Cooper has been helping, serving and leading in our community for many years. Renee was part of a selected group of high school volunteers to participate in the Young Leaders afterschool program at Davenport Ridge Elementary School , which is a growth opportunity for 4th and 5th graders to learn how to become better leaders in the community by demonstrating positive behavior. In this program Renee collaborated with students in activities ranging from role playing for decision making to brainstorming community service opportunities. As a volunteer with Build On, Stamford’s largest volunteer service club, Renee participated in the First Presbyterian Church’s afterschool program, Creative Learning, to help underserved elementary school children with their homework, tutoring and providing guidance as needed for specific situations. As an active member of Stamford High School’s Gives Back Club, Renee has not only helped to raise money, she also was part of a group that extended volunteering to visiting Atria Stamford Senior Living residents on a weekly basis. She would engage residents in book club discussions and arts and crafts, and dance with them at holiday and social events, placing often-needed smiles on her partners’ faces. Renee also has had the opportunity to further demonstrate her leadership skills as one of the two captains of the Stamford High’s varsity field hockey team, taking on tasks that were needed on and off the field. In addition, Renee is a staff writer for the school newspaper and member of the Mayor’s Youth Leadership Council, the National Honor Society, the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization and a long-time volunteer at the Stamford Food Bank.