JCCA’s Pleasantville Cottage Campus is a special place. Once you get to know the oasis of healing and reprieve that lies beyond the front gate, it’s hard to forget. Countless volunteers tell a version of a familiar story: ‘I came here by chance one day years ago and I’ve been back every week since.’ But for some younger volunteers the influence of the Cottage Campus shows up not just in how they spend their free time but in the direction they choose to take their lives.
“Volunteering is a family value for us,” says Olivia Silberstein, whose mother Ellen is a fixture in the JCCA volunteer community. Olivia first came to campus as a 7th grader, hoping to plan a volunteer project for her Bat Mitzvah. She fell in love right away. “I’d done other volunteering but nothing moved me as much as this.” Naturally, she kept coming back, and in time deepened her connection with the residents. “It meant a lot when kids opened up to me,” she says. “I learned how to be there for someone going through a hard situation. I learned how much just listening and being a friend can help.”
Ava Cohn was a college freshman when her mom and the mother of a friend convinced her to join them for a campus visit. No convincing was required to get Ava to return again and again afterward. She adopted a cottage in the START program and sought to bring as much joy as she could. She played basketball and rode bikes with residents, and developed a particular passion for craft projects. “I’d research new crafts, gather the supplies, and show up at the cottage ready to go,” she says. “We never failed to have blast. It meant a lot for the residents to have an outlet to express themselves.”
What began with fun and games turned into something serious: a sense of purpose. “Being on campus played a huge part in shaping my interests and academic plans,” Cohn reflects. She went on study psychology and social justice in college. As a student she interned at an organization supporting sexually abused children and worked for a court-appointed special advocate program for foster youth. “These experiences helped me understand the emotional and legal turmoil that vulnerable children find themselves in,” she says.
While she volunteered in many areas, Cohn always returned to a desire to work with kids. “My experience with JCCA kickstarted a direction in my life. My dream is to create serious impact for children,” she says. After earning her undergraduate degree, Cohn enrolled in a master’s program in nonprofit management with the intention of working in child and family services, and we’re thrilled to report that she just accepted a full-time position at the Madison Square Boys and Girls Club Foundation.
Olivia Silberstein is also carrying the influence of JCCA into her adult life. She’s studying sociology and education in college––subjects directly connected to the work of the Cottage Campus. “I was really inspired by the Cottage School,” she reflects. “It sparked my passion to help children.”