Last year, as the coronavirus spread and people hunkered down in their homes, North Shore first responders leaped into action, figuring out how to provide needed health care and emergency assistance while continuing to assure the uninterrupted flow of basic community services to the region’s towns and villages.
Then there was James Bodian, of Oyster Bay. At age 15, the Portledge School sophomore devised an initiative of his own to help those in need.
“Immediately I wanted to do something, and I thought of homeless people living on the streets,” said Bodian, who’s now 16. “They couldn’t quarantine. I could imagine myself in their shoes. I figured maybe I could make sanitation kits for them, but didn’t know how to go about distributing them. So I contacted Josh Lafazan, a local county legislator, and asked if he knew a place I could donate them.”
Lafazan, recommended Mommas House, a nonprofit in Glen Cove that provides shelter and support services for young homeless mothers and their babies.
Bodian got to work. He gathered what he would need for 100 kits with the help of his father, Dr. Adam Bodian, spending roughly 20 minutes a day after school on the task.
“I made up a little bag containing a mask, a bar of soap, hand cream, hand sanitizer, and put them all in a big box or a crate, and basically brought them to the front door of Mommas House and dropped them off,” he said. “At that moment I felt so good, seeing the look on the faces of the people in charge there. You could tell how appreciative they were.”
Patricia Shea, the director of Mommas house, who was at the door when Bodian showed up with his crate full of sanitation kits, said she was grateful. “It was a time we couldn’t get these items,” she said. “Things were so uncertain what exactly needed to be done, and we couldn’t get basic supply needs, so it was great that James stepped forward. Sure, we have people leave things at the front door — a church, a school, a scouting group — but it’s exceptional to have an individual come forward like that. To feel that calling and do something about it is unusual.”
“James is an amazing kid,” said Lafazan, an independent who represents District 18. “Like many young people at the height of the Covid pandemic last year, he stepped up to the plate and made a difference. Unfortunately, there’s been so much need with Covid. It’s our pleasure and our honor to help a kid like this, our privilege.”
And 2020 was just the beginning of Bodian’s accomplishments. “That was in early July, and it kind of sat with me for a year,” he said. “I never saw anyone so happy, so I just wanted to do it again.”
Early last month, he contacted Lafazan again to ask about other places he could help. When Lafazan recommended Grenville Baker Boys & Girls Club in Locust Valley, Bodian went to work assembling another 100 kits.
“These latest ones I made from my own money, money I’ve been saving over the years, shoveling snow for neighbors, etcetera,” he said. “I guess I just realized, saving that money, what would I use it for? Why not use it for something good?”
As James original mission was to help the homeless, he assembled another 100 kits to donate to Mommas House again, which he delivered last week.
“I tell young people all the time, when you change the life of even just one of your neighbors, you’re fulfilling your responsibility as a citizen of this country,” Lafazan said. “And to be honest, I see in young people today a renewed spirit of the responsibility that we all have to make a difference for those in need. This generation, growing up with social media, doesn’t want to wait to make a difference, they want to help right now.”
Bodian’s motivation to volunteer actually preceded the pandemic lockdown. “I’d say it all started when I helped out at the Boys & Girls Club in Oyster Bay six years ago,” he recalled. “A few of us older kids volunteered to help the younger ones. We tutored kids with homework, played with them in the gym, played with computers with them. I learned that even the smallest actions can make a big difference. It taught me the philosophy of helping other people.”
This will also be Bodian’s third summer as a volunteer oyster gardener for the Oyster Bay Protection Committee. “The ongoing goal of the program is to improve the water quality in the Long Island Sound through the natural water-filtering quality of oysters,” he explained. “Each summer, I raise about 100 baby oysters in a special cage, protect them until they grow to a specific size, and then I release the adult oysters into a designated spawner sanctuary in Oyster Bay where they’ll be safe, without any harvesting pressure.”
He also anticipates finding new ways to help the homeless this summer. “Voluntarism is just me being me,” he said. “Any small thing you can do for someone else, you feel happier as a person inside. It makes your day-to-day life more joyful. Particularly with all the bad things going on in the world today, voluntarism is a small way to rebalance that.”
That’s a lesson best learned by taking the initiative to support an organization in the community that serves the needs of others, despite the challenge of acquiring the funds to do so. “Some people assume that because we run a facility like this, we have all the supplies we need, but we can always use help,” Shea said. “It’s so important, even though we’re getting on the far side of Covid now, for that help to continue. We still have need for donations.”