Hope Wolfe and her two children, Devon and Garrett, and her husband, Gavin, have been volunteering at JCCA’s Pleasantville Cottage Campus for more than six years.
The Wolfe family increased its involvement when Devon and her brother became junior tutors while in middle school. Devon was really touched by the stark contrast in lives lead by the children at the Pleasantville Cottage Campus. She explains, “While many of the kids were the same age as me, they lived such different lives. So many of the things I took for granted, such as having loving and supportive parents and a home to return to, these children did not benefit from. Instead, they were forced to overcome countless personal challenges. I felt so bad for them and wanted to help in some way.”
Devon started out tutoring a young boy named Mike on a weekly basis throughout the school year. She continues, “At first, Mike wouldn’t open up to me or share much about his life, but in time, he began to describe his many hardships. He received little love or positive reinforcement at home and had very low self-esteem as a consequence. Mike and I still stay in touch and I am so glad he now has a part-time job and appears to be on the right track. He is more confident and has plans for his future—he wants to be a teacher.”
Devon’s relationship with Mike motivated her to broaden her efforts. “My brother and I formed a club at Byram Hills High School to encourage many of our peers to get involved and help the children at the Pleasantville Cottage Campus. The response was overwhelming, we had more than 100 members. Initially, we adopted three cottages at Edenwald and have monthly meetings where we plan activities such as planting flowers, doing Sumba, playing basketball, or even doing each other’s nails. Our trips always include some homemade food and sharing music, which is a reminder to us of how much we have in common.” In addition to monthly meetings, the club coordinates quarterly visits from Byram Hills High School with a bus full of kids from the community eager to spend the day with kids on the Campus. Devon also helped form a Westchester-wide Youth Leadership Board of young students from the surrounding high schools in Westchester County. The Leadership Board organizes an annual field day and supports the Arts in Action program, in which the Campus children perform in interactive theater.
According to Hope, “Watching how strongly my kids felt and how deeply the children and teens were touched by them, I decided I wanted to get involved, too.” She continues, “When I visit the older teens in my Pleasantville Cottage School cottage, it is often a challenge to get them to open up and engage with us. We have tried various projects and games but the clear favorite in Cottage 7 has always been Scattergories. It is very rewarding when they get caught up in up in the game and take a break from the unimaginable hardships they have had to face. These kids are so accustomed to being abandoned that it takes a while for them to form relationships and begin to trust – to know that we will be returning to see them again. When they see a familiar face, they look at you differently. I hope that our monthly visits to these children play a small part in helping them heal. The visits also help me see my own life differently. If I have a problem or a bad day, I think of what these kids have been through and it changes my perspective. It’s truly inspirational to see the human spirit fight to overcome adversity.”
Volunteering is a family affair for the Wolfes. Their son, Garrett, who is now a freshman at Duke University, has been mentoring and tutoring children at the Campus since he was in 6th grade, while Hope’s husband, Gavin, volunteers periodically and attends Arts in Action and the annual fundraiser, A Tree Grows in Pleasantville. Garrett says, “I am convinced that I have learned more interacting with these kids than I have in school. The experience serves as a daily reminder to be grateful for all the wonderful people in my life and to take nothing for granted.”
Devon reflects, “I am very grateful to have a wonderful family. We are such a close unit and I really appreciate our lives together. The Pleasantville Cottage Campus kids have gone through so much. I want to help them believe that they can overcome their struggles. I want to give them hope.”