Community Chest South Shore, formerly known as Five Towns Community Chest, is a 90-year-old local organization that gives high school-age teens opportunities to volunteer, become involved in the local community and expand their social network through its Youth Board.
Community Chest, staffed entirely by volunteers, raises funds through events to benefit mental health support programs, senior centers, food pantries and other organizations. Its Neighbors Helping Neighbors group helps community members in need with material assistance and financial aid.
The Youth Board is under the guidance of Hewlett resident Jackie Kaminer, a Community Chest board member since 2006 and a former Lawrence School District teacher who got involved with the Youth Board when her children were in high school. She has overseen it since 2008.
“I love it, because my kids are now in their 20s and it keeps me connected with the teen community, and I’m also a former teacher, so it keeps me connected with schools,” Kaminer said, adding that her work with the Youth Board is rewarding because she has never had to “say goodbye to those eras” of teaching and having teens of her own.
Community Chest’s largest annual events are its 5K Family Run/Walk along the Atlantic Beach boardwalk, and a fair at Andrew J. Parise Park in Cedarhurst, in conjunction with the Marion & Aaron Gural JCC. The Youth Board also supports the JCC by helping with its Rina Shkolnik Kosher Food Pantry at the Sustenance Hope Opportunities Place in Cedarhurst.
Volunteer opportunities have changed over the past two years, as the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in the cancellation of many annual Five Towns events and gatherings, including the Youth Board’s annual basketball tournament.
In late December, the board obtained nearly 400 Covid-19 test kits from Nassau County, with the help of County Legislator Howard Kopel, of Lawrence, who is also a Community Chest board member. As of press time, volunteers had distributed more than 200 tests to Five Towns residents.
Hewlett High School senior Jessica Lubliner, one of the Youth Board’s presidents, said she enjoys collaborating with her peers to help the community and spread positivity.
“Nothing makes me happier than seeing smiles on people’s faces,” Lubliner said. “Especially throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, I want nothing more than to participate and help anywhere I can.”
The Youth Board has nearly 30 active members from six high schools in the Five Towns, including Davis Renov Stahler Yeshiva High School for Boys, in Woodmere; Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway High School, in Lawrence; South Side High, in Rockville Centre; Hewlett High; Lawrence High, in Cedarhurst; and Lynbrook High, bringing together teens with diverse backgrounds.
Although the group would normally meet in person, Kaminer has changed the format of meetings amid the pandemic, and it now meets bi-monthly on Zoom.
“In some ways it’s just a nice social thing for them,” she said, adding that during times when there is less community service to discuss, she incorporates ice-breakers and team-building exercises into the meetings.
Students either volunteer for altruistic reasons or for school, and Kaminer welcome the chance to help them with their educational requirements through the program.
The Youth Board has an executive board comprising presidents, usually high school seniors, and vice presidents, juniors, which offers volunteers an opportunity to add to their resumes or college applications.
Kaminer has written reference letters for volunteers applying to colleges. “It’s a really wonderful outside-of-school connection for kids,” she said. “It can be a pivotal thing that can really help on a student profile, because it’s not your average sports or school club — it presents something that [students] went outside of the box, and everybody always loves the idea of giving back to the community and getting involved in philanthropy at a young age.”
Lynbrook High junior Gabrielle Geller, a Youth Board vice presidents, said she appreciates the opportunities the organization has presented her, whether she is making a difference in someone’s life or discovering new personal interests through volunteering.
“I joined the Youth Board to expand my outreach and give me opportunities outside of my school,” Geller said. “I like connecting with people when I do volunteer work, and making friendships with people who are also volunteering that are outside of my normal circle.”
Molly Klein, a HAFTR High junior, joined the Youth Board after a friend told her about it. She has enjoyed meeting other high schoolers, she said, and developed a better understanding of the purpose of community service.
“I feel that it’s my responsibility to give back and to do what I can for my community,” Klein said, “because they provide endless opportunities for me to grow as an individual.”