Focusing on issues ranging from potholes to speeding cars on popular roads like Dutch Broadway, community group Voices for Elmont aims to advocate for the community in different ways.
Voices for Elmont, which communicates primarily through the app WhatsApp, formed in 2019, and has since sought ways to promote community service and activism via local partnerships and consensus building. The group initially came together during discussions about the Belmont arena project, according to member Jon Johnson.
“We wanted to keep people in the know of what’s going on in Elmont,” said Johnson, who is also president of the Elmont Cardinals Sports Club. “It’s very engaging. People need to have a platform to be aware of what’s happening in their community, so we hope to be strong in our endeavors of reaching more Elmont residents.”
Johnson said that while the coronavirus pandemic created challenges for local organizations, it also led to the group’s growth. “The pandemic pushed more people towards social media, so that actually worked in our favor,” he said.
Among the recent issues that members have tackled was a vape shop that had opened across the street from Elmont Memorial High School. For the past two years, Voices for Elmont member Tiffany Capers raised her concerns with the Hempstead Town Board, showing them how electronic cigarette stores were targeting teenagers with their advertisements. In March, Town Supervisor Don Clavin announced that the Town Board would enact legislation restricting where vape shops could operate.
“This group is not afraid to bring issues to the surface,” Capers said.
This year, Voices for Elmont will recognize two high school students for their community service in the midst of the pandemic at its inaugural virtual awards ceremony on June 3. Sewanhaka High School senior JonHector Soler and Elmont High senior Devin Johnson will be honored with scholarships. Each student will receive $650.
“JonHector Soler is a model student-athlete,” Sewanhaka school counselor Caitlin M. O’Toole said. “More than that, he is a role model to his peers and is dedicated to the betterment of his community. He’s been a consistently diligent student, a leader on the athletic field, and he gives back to his community by coaching lacrosse clinics and actively participating in church events.”
Soler will attend SUNY Cortland this fall, with plans to pursue a career in physical therapy.
“Devin is not only among the top academic students in our senior class, he is also involved in all aspects of our school community,” Caron Cox, Elmont High’s chairwoman of pupil personnel services, said of Johnson. “Whether he’s serving as president of the Key Club, vice president of student government, playing volleyball or soccer, or anchoring Elmont Broadcast News, Devin is literally everywhere on our campus.”
Johnson will attend the University of Chicago in the fall, to study economics with a concentration in data and political science.
The scholarships will be named for Barbara Reynolds, a former PTA member in both the Elmont and Sewanhaka school districts who died of cancer last month. Reynolds, 66, was an advocate in the school communities for decades. Several members of Voices for Elmont remembered her for her “Barbara-isms,” a sort of unspoken set of rules.
“She was a very well known, diverse woman when it came to Elmont,” Johnson said. “This scholarship is going to keep her name alive for years to come.”
“This award highlights her name and the values that she fought for,” said Theodora Ridley, a past PTA president in the Elmont School District. “She went from school to school to see what the needs were, and she made sure the district addressed them. She was always trying to connect the dots, and that’s what we’re trying to do with Voices for Elmont.”
Ridley said she hoped the group could meet in person to decide on issues to focus on, or perhaps divide up into committees to work on specific projects in the community.
Charles Shell, another member of the group whose daughters were alumni of Elmont High, said that giving back to the schools gave him a feeling of euphoria. Shell, who knew Reynolds, for 15 years, said that it made him emotional when the group agreed to name the scholarship for her. Going forward, Shell said, he would like to get more residents involved with the group.
“I want Elmont to become a community where everyone is more supportive of one another,” he said. “Instead of closing their blinds or shutting their doors, we’d like for them to come out and stand up for their community. We’ll become a positive, strong force if we do things together.”
Melissa Koenig contributed to this story.