Ellen Silberstein and her family look forward to visiting the youngsters at the Pleasasntville Cottage School campus on a regular basis.
Silberstein, her husband Scott, and their children Olivia, Claire and Ian are among the more than 600 volunteers throughout Westchester who regularly mentor, have lunch with or engage in various discussion groups or other activities with the on-campus residents at the residential treatment facility
“I just feel a connection there,” Silberstein said. “I had some trauma in my childhood and I had friends to help. I had experienced a parent dying. I had to live with some friends for a couple of years…and I can relate to their struggle.”
Silberstein’s efforts at the Cottage School started about four years ago when she became a volunteer at The Children’s Hope Chest, a committee comprised of Westchester residents and their children that visits the middle school-age residents for Thanksgiving dinner and for other events.
Her two daughters, now 19 and 17 years old, accompanied her on the Hope Chest visits, and before long, they wanted to start a Lunch Bunch group. Then Silberstein’s son, her youngest child who is now 13 years old, also chose to become involved by participating in the campus’s teen volunteer program where he plays games, eats lunch and provides a peer-to-peer relationship with youngsters of a similar age.
Most recently, her husband and a group of his friends established the school’s first men’s Lunch Bunch, where they arrive one Saturday a month and have lunch with some of the boys.
Still, Silberstein, a Scarsdale resident, felt there was more to do about a year after starting her Lunch Bunch. She inquired about becoming a mentor to one of the resident girls. For the past three years, Silberstein has been mentoring Tamika, who will soon be turning 19, and they have forged a bond. Over these last few years, Silberstein drops by to take Tamika out to lunch or get her nails done or more recently just to let her know that she can call when she’s in need of someone to talk to.
“I just try and listen and help her, try to give her some guidelines,” Silberstein said.
Given her personal loss as a child, it is easy to understand why Silberstein would be compelled to give back to youngsters in difficult situations. But she and her husband have impressed their children that it’s their responsibility to help others.
“I have to say that I just wouldn’t have it any other way,” she said. “My kids, they just need to know – and they do know – they know they need to help people who are less fortunate. That’s just something, if I’ve taught them anything, that’s the message I’ve wanted to convey since they were very little.”
And Silberstein and her family are still exploring new ways to make the lives of the Cottage School residents a little better. The family is looking to organize a fundraiser to help renovate the campus recreation center in the near future. With limited choices for a social outlet, the rec center is one place where they can congregate and be kids.
Silberstein and a group of the volunteers are looking to plan a large fundraiser in the near future.
While some might see the commitment as a major responsibility, that’s not how Silberstein views it. Nor does she feel uncomfortable when she or her family visits despite the number of incidents involving residents over the years, Silberstein said.
“We just want to make it better for them,” she said. “They have a lot of sadness.”