Zoe Kleinman first volunteered on the Pleasantville campus in 6th grade. Her experience was a common one: she loved it and looked for opportunities to come back. She did after school craft activities with residents and joined a lunch bunch when she was old enough. What’s less common is that she didn’t stop there.
As she grew up, Zoe saw that she could do more. The summer after her first year of college, she returned to campus along with two friends to run a class with a deeper aim: fostering the attitudes and skills that support confidence, self-love, and preparedness for the world beyond campus. The group began each session with a compliment circle, after which they’d build resumes, prepare for job interviews, and have candid discussions of all kinds. “That summer I felt like I was really making an impact,” Zoe says. “The compliment circle was simple but powerful: say something positive about the person next to you. I just tried it once and they demanded it every time afterward.”
Zoe carried these experiences with her while considering what path her own life might take. “When applying to college I took a step back to ask: what do I really want to do with my time and energy?” she says. “Volunteering at JCCA for such a long time helped me appreciate the severe disadvantages these kids face. I wanted to create some kind of change for them, and for kids like them.”
While studying sociology, psychology, and history, Zoe’s research projects and papers often examined childhood, the family, and foster care. “I wanted to educate myself about what leads a young person to end up at a place like Pleasantville,” Zoe says. “I wanted to ask questions not just about individual children but about the larger system.”
Zoe soon realized how crucially the legal system impacts outcomes for vulnerable youth. “I saw a career opening there, and am currently applying to law school with the intention of eventually working in child advocacy,” Zoe notes. She’s already well on her way, having worked with a family court judge in the Bronx this past summer. “It was an amazingly eye-opening experience,” she says. “You see really hard things and hear heartbreaking stories, but it was important for me to gain that insight and it only deepened my passion for going in this direction. It’s one thing to care about these kids––they’re amazing––but it’s another to try to understand how they got to this point and what we can do better.”