By KATIE HOOS
Two Rye women will be honored for their dedication to community service and volunteerism at the Volunteer Spirit Awards, a fundraising event hosted by the Volunteer Center of United Way, on Thursday, April 24.
Reena Kashyap and Lisa Sandler, along with seven other award recipients from Westchester and Rockland counties, will be recognized at the 34th annual celebration held at the Doubletree by Hilton Hotel in Tarrytown. Kashyap and Sandler, both longtime Rye residents, volunteer at the Rye Nature Center and Port Chester’s Clay Art Center, respectively.
Sandler, 48, recipient of the “Going Green” award, has volunteered for more than 12 years at the Rye Nature Center—a 47-acre nature preserve located at 873 Boston Post Road that includes hiking trails, playgrounds, a museum and classrooms—promoting environmental ed-ucation and conservation in the community. Sandler, a 16-year Rye resident, said she first got involved with the organization after her son went to the center’s summer camp in 2001.
During her four years as the Friends of Rye Nature Center board president from 2009 to 2012, Sandler helped double the number of summer camp scholarships the center presented to students in New York City’s poorest communities.
“Rather than spend summer out on the street or on the concrete, they can spend it in the woods,” Sandler said. “The amazement and enthusiasm with which they take part in the program is incredible and heartwarming.”
The center’s summer programs host more than 100 children each year.
Sandler also supported the renovation of the visitor center, started a weekly ecology program for preschoolers and revitalized the center’s playgrounds during her tenure on the Friends of Rye Nature Center board.
Sandler said volunteering has been a way for her to be active outside of her home, and that she values the friendships she has made through her work at the nature center.
“It has allowed me to meet people I wouldn’t have ordinarily met through school or everyday activities,” she said. “I’ve met people across all generations and I really like that.”
The Volunteer Center of United Way, which is hosting this year’s Volunteer Spirit Awards, is a Tarrytown-based organization that promotes volunteerism by supporting nonprofits in the Westchester and Mid-Hudson region. In its 64 years of service, 19,000 volunteers have assisted more than 500 local organizations.
In the same spirit of volunteerism, Kashyap, 60, is being given the “Arts and Culture” award for her dedication to the promotion of the Clay Art Center, a nonprofit organization that promotes the advancement of the ceramic arts. The center—located at 40 Beech St. in Port Chester—hosts adult and kids classes, gallery events, and workshops and provides affordable studio space for artists and community members interested in clay arts.
Kashyap, a 30-year Rye resident, said she first started attending classes at the Clay Art Center in 1983 and eventually joined the board of directors in 1987 with the goal of strengthening the center’s relationship with the community.
“I thought, ‘What is the center doing for the community and what is the community doing for the center?’ There was no synergy at all, and that had to change,” she said. “I didn’t want it to be Port Chester’s best-kept secret.”
Kashyap, who served as the Clay Art Center’s board of directors’ president from 1997 to 2012 and is now the board’s treasurer, began instituting educational and scholarship programs, brought clay art programs into local public schools and began the “clay as therapy” initiative, which partners the Clay Art Center with local nursing homes, homeless shelters and healthcare centers.
Volunteering at the Clay Art Center is a natural thing, Kashyap said, noting that her family has always held the philosophy that the more you have, the more you should give back.
“We’ve been able to create something that identifies so much joy, creates a place of pride in [the] community and helps others do something that makes them feel good,” Kashyap said. “I’ve never shied from helping others and it gives me great joy.”