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April 21, 2022

By Molly Alpern, Assistant Director for Advancement Communications

Whether they are planning student events, leading peer-to-peer fundraising, organizing All School Multicultural Committee (ASMC) programming, or strengthening alumni engagement, volunteers play an integral role at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School.

For National Volunteer Appreciation Week, we spoke to seven of our volunteer leaders about why they got involved, what their most meaningful volunteer experiences have been, and what volunteering taught them about the School.

How did you first get involved as a volunteer at ECFS, and what volunteer roles have you filled?

Bree Sheahan P’24, P’26, P+T Chair and Fieldston Upper Officer: To be honest, when my family joined the ECFS community more than 10 years ago, I signed up for a number of committees, became overwhelmed, and was not very helpful to any of them! At the time, I was very busy at work and managing two different school schedules. The next year, I volunteered as a Class Parent and was able to balance and commit to the one role. Since then, I have volunteered in many different capacities. For the past five years, I have been on the P+T Executive Committee, first as a Co-Chair of the Ethical Culture P+T, then as a Fieldston Middle Liaison, and for the past two years as the All School P+T Chair and the Fieldston Upper Liaison.

Jamil Cordova P’30, P’32, P+T Volunteer, Fieldston Lower Welcome Committee: ​​I began volunteering when my oldest son started Pre-K back in 2016, helping out during class trips and whenever a parent chaperone was needed. Each year, I took on larger roles, chaperoning class trips; being a Buddy Family, Class Parent, and Grade Chair; and getting involved in different school-wide committees such as the Spirit Committee, Social Committee, and Parents Of Color Affinity Group. I co-chair both the Fieldston Lower ASMC and the Welcoming Committee — after being a member for several years, I decided that I wanted to commit more time and effort into the causes that I felt connected to.

Linda Kelly P’18, P’20, P’22, P’32, ASMC All School Chair: It wasn’t until my youngest, Colin K. ’32, joined in Pre-K at Fieldston Lower that I jumped in with both feet. I served as a Grade Chair and a Co-Chair of the Social Committee, where we planned lots of fun activities to build community among families: a family board game night, a gym party, a Zoom trivia night for parents and guardians, and a Google Meet magician night, complete with bedtime stories from some Fieldston Upper students and Principal Joe. I also served as a parent representative to help plan the Class of 2020 commencement (we did it!) and then got involved in the Orange Fund to help raise funds to make a Fieldston education available to all.

Volunteers celebrating ECFS Gratitude Week

How has volunteering impacted your understanding of and connection to ECFS?

Cordova: I think the interactions and connections I made with other parents and guardians really solidified my feeling that the people in the Fieldston community have so much in common in terms of ethics, morals, and empathy. It has helped me to get to know other members of our community in a way that I otherwise would not have through just social interactions. I believe volunteering creates a deeper connection to our School.

Hayden Greene P’27, P’31, ASMC Co-Chair: Having access to the administration in my role has given me a clearer understanding of the direction of the School and it placed me in a unique position to be able to translate that to other parents and guardians effectively. I’ve also seen how much autonomy and support the administration affords the different committees and how they truly view us as partners.

Crystal Eng Won P’25, Orange Fund Co-Chair: I didn’t know anyone when we first arrived to ECFS, and since many families already knew each other from Pre-K, I figured the best way to join the community and learn more about the School was to volunteer — and I haven’t stopped since. Being a volunteer has drawn me closer to ECFS in more ways than I could have anticipated. We came to ECFS for my daughter to get an education, but I never dreamt that I would be so fulfilled as a volunteer.

The Fieldston Lower Carnival is a beloved event, hosted in partnership with the Fieldston Lower P+T

What has been your most impactful experience, biggest success, or the thing you’re most proud of as a volunteer at the School?

Nick Kaplan ’88, Fieldston Alumni Network (FAN) Chair: The time I’ve spent on the FAN Leadership Committee throughout the years has been amazing and has allowed me to continue building and supporting the community. As volunteers, supporting the School is the best thing we can do for the students, whether it’s acting as a mentor, providing a summer internship, or just helping a student with a life question. That’s what being a community is all about.

Greene: My most impactful experience would definitely be this year’s ASMC Alumni Speaker Series. Our speakers were fearless and the community was receptive to their stories at a level that I did not anticipate. Even the small things, like being able to welcome people with music that represented my culture, definitely made an impact on me. We realized that our stories were similar, or that the ways our were dissimilar were opportunities for us to learn.

Kelly: My most rewarding points of connection have come through SEED (Seeking Educational Equity & Diversity) and the White Anti-Racist Parent/Caregiver affinity group. It has been amazing to participate in these groups and to learn in community with other parents and guardians whose children are also learning together. After those experiences, I volunteered to serve as an ASMC Co-Chair. Volunteering has provided opportunities for me to get to know parents and guardians in other divisions and build deeper relationships with them. My life is richer for it!

Did you introduce any new events, initiatives, or programs as a leadership volunteer?

Sheahan: We are always introducing new programs, just like the School we are constantly evolving to meet the needs of the community. One of my favorite events that we introduced is a 5th Grade social for both Ethical Culture and Fieldston Lower families. The transition from 5th to 6th Grade can feel very daunting and we consistently heard that parents and guardians wanted to learn more about Fieldston Middle and have the opportunity to meet families in the other division before all of the students came together in 6th Grade. We brought together all 5th Grade families for a social, which was a true group effort with our Ethical Culture and Fieldston Lower Grade Chairs and an incredible parent and guardian committee. That event inspired other grades to host Ethical Culture/Fieldston Lower socials and we started more purposeful social and informational events at key transition points from Pre-K to 9th Grade.

Kaplan: Since joining the FAN, there have been wonderful leaders who create and drive the mission of building community. I am lucky to be a part of continuing that work. An early goal was to build a roster of events throughout each year and we now have six events that the community has gotten to know and love.

Lance Taubin ’06, FAN Vice Chair: A few years ago, I spearheaded the creation of an event called Get Connected, which serves as a Fieldston alumni networking event. It felt like there was a huge opportunity for people who went to the School to grow their network and get to know other graduates both professionally and socially.

Alumni gathered to network and socialize at the Get Connected event

What’s your message for people who think they might want to volunteer, but don’t know where to start?

Eng Won: Don’t overthink it — just jump right in! There’s a volunteer opportunity for everyone at ECFS.

Taubin: Come to an event! Come to Homecoming, be part of a community, and feel the value of that. It’s a community we want to take care of and nurture. Homecoming is a great event for alumni to attend; there’s so much back-to-school spirit with lots of students and alumni. Those events really do bring you back to Fieldston and the School’s values.

Sheahan: Don’t feel like you need to jump in too deep. Any and every effort is valued and there are so many opportunities that every parent and guardian can find something that fits their interests. There are many simple ways to get involved, from an hour-long shift at the Fieldston Lower Carnival or Homecoming to bringing a snack to an athletics game! Volunteerism and service is central to the mission and fabric of ECFS and as the adage goes, it feels good to give back.

Happy Volunteer Appreciation Month, and thank you to all our ECFS volunteers!