For more than a decade, Heidi Felix has been guiding kids to give back to their communities.
Felix, 56, has been volunteering with the Key Club at Wantagh High School for more than 13 years, and is currently the Key Club advisor. The club is one of many service leadership programs within Kiwanis International, a volunteer organization that helps kids with causes in health, education and youth leadership. Wantagh’s Key Club, according to Felix, is full of kids who are eager to make a difference in their community.
“We’re a family who likes to give back,” Felix said.
When Felix joined the club, she said only five kids were active members, but she helped grow it over the years. In 2022, with the help of teacher and advisor Deanna Pepe, they were able to recruit more than 100 kids to be active members of the club.
With their commitment to the club, Felix said she and Pepe managed to maintain all of their community service projects throughout that pandemic year of 2022. Today, the Key Club, according to Felix, and is one of the largest clubs at the high school.
“If it wasn’t for my Key Club, I don’t think my Kiwanis club would have had any service projects, but my kids are the ones that kept us motivated and going throughout the entire pandemic,” Felix said.
Key Club members actively engage in projects that help benefit their community. Felix said members create their own projects that they wish to pursue throughout the year, choosing them based on their life experiences. For example, some members are on the autism spectrum, so the club holds autism awareness campaigns, participating in the Autism Speaks Walk and conducting educational fairs on autism.
“We get teams together to promote awareness for different things,” Felix said, “and each one of those projects has come from a member in the class.”
For the American Heart Association, club members conduct a live awareness and safety program with the Kiwanis Pediatric Trauma Center Foundation. They visit elementary schools to train children in bicycle safety, such as the importance of wearing a helmet. The Wantagh club also runs a campaign promoting kindness in the school district to deter bullying.
“We don’t tolerate bullying,” Felix said, “so we have an entire program around that on inclusiveness.”
According to Felix, some club members have shown concerns about suicide among their peers, so they participate in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Walk. Felix knows all too well about suicide, because she has known a friend and family member who have taken their lives.
“We do this because, unfortunately, I can see the signs in these kids,” Felix said of suicide awareness, “and so we do this as an awareness so they know they can reach out to us.”
The Key Club also works with the John Theissen Children’s Foundation, a non-profit organization in Wantagh that helps sick and underprivileged children. Club members participate in the foundation’s school and toy drives throughout the year, as well as 5K fundraisers. Theissen’s foundation runs many programs throughout the year, and Felix said club members volunteer whenever possible.
“Anything that John does, our Key Club and Kiwanis supports,” Felix said.
Felix said the club helps kids build leadership skills, and she loves the experience of working with Key Club members because she enjoys building connections between adults and children through community service. She has been involved with the Wantagh community for the past 25 years, and has known most of the club members since they were born.
In 2015, Felix became the Wantagh Herald Person of the Year for her dedication and service to the town she loves so much. While she appreciated the honor, Felix said she does the work because she enjoys seeing the club and its members grow.
“It was nice to be recognized, but I don’t do any of this for recognition,” Felix said of being named Person of the Year.
Felix described it as an incredible experience watching these kids go on to have successful lives, whether they become lawyers or doctors. She added that working with children is where her inspiration lies, and she’s proud to be their advisor.
“It is such a blessing to be part of an organization where people are so focused on the community and doing stuff just to be able to help others,” Felix said.