On an unseasonably beautiful 73-degree afternoon last Saturday at Jones Beach, the Wantagh Kiwanis and Wantagh High School Key Club joined forces on the boardwalk to do a bit of cleaning.
Sponsored and organized by the Kiwanis, 39 members of the Key Club, which focuses on community service, roamed the walkway and the beach in front of the West Bathhouse and Gatsby on the Ocean restaurant, collecting litter. Inspired by a similar Key Club project six years ago, students hauled away a total of 235 pounds of trash.
“Jones Beach is a place that people in our community visit year-round, and we wanted to help make it as clean as possible,” Wantagh High School senior Julia Froese (pronounced fro-shee), a co-president of the club, told the Herald on Sunday. “While there are so many other places that need our help, Jones Beach was one that we wanted to clean up, since there’s always a large amount of foot traffic there. In addition, leaving trash on the beach area puts sea life in danger.”
Froese and her fellow students arrived at the park at
around 9 a.m. They were greeted by Kiwanis President Margaret Silberger and Vice President Kevin Gorman, who were armed with boxes of trash bags, disposable gloves and a large bottle of hand sanitizer, compliments of park workers. After working for roughly two and a half hours, the students gathered with their bags full, their wide eyes above their masks evidence of the smiles beneath them.
“Jones Beach is really a place that we all grew up going to, and spent a lot of time there during the summers,” Michael Minars, club co-president, said the day after the cleanup. “It really is a center of our community, and it’s so important to spread a sense of responsibility for public places that we enjoy.”
“What I see from the youth itself is a group of very dedicated young people who really want to better this community,” Silberger said on Sunday. “They really care. They wanted to be there Saturday, and they don’t have to be. They could have easily not been, but this is a very active youth group.”
Due to extenuating circumstances, the Kiwanis Club had to shift its focus earlier this year. “We had four fundraisers planned that were supposed to happen before Covid-19 hit, and then we had to keep rescheduling,” Silberger explained. “We use the money from fundraisers to give scholarships to seniors and send kids to Camp Kiwanis in upstate New York. Since we weren’t having any fundraisers, we became really focused on service projects. We were open to any and all new ideas, and we really talked about a lot of things, and then this idea came from Heidi Felix.”
Felix, the Herald’s 2015 Person of the Year, a mother of two who joined Kiwanis 13 years ago, has been a Key Club adviser for 11 years. She says she enjoys nothing more than seeing generations of Wantagh students come through the program and develop a love for their community through service.
“It’s all about them — it’s about the kids,” Felix said. “Working with the Kiwanis and having the ability to bring them together with the Key Club is great. I’m super spoiled because I get to work with these kids every week.”
She said that, along with Silberger, Gorman and another Key Club adviser, Deanne Pepe, who has been in the program with her for three years, she has seen students make an impact in Wantagh with their commitment to service.
“I joined Key Club because I was eager to help my community and help those in need,” Froese said. “As I started to get more involved, I found the value in helping my community and wanted to have a bigger role in it.”
Her co-president shared similar sentiments. “Kiwanis is appealing to me because it really is locals helping locals,” Minars said. “Everyone in Kiwanis is a longtime Wantagh community member. They all share the common goal of helping to unite our community.”
Felix hinted at more projects to come. “If you think of it, the school right now is closed for two weeks,” she said. “But they’re literally coming to me with new ideas every day of things they can do to help.”