Jason Fine and Aaron Notis recognized that they and many of their peers were not as aware of certain historical events or struggles around the world as they should be.
The two Horace Greeley High School seniors have sought to change that. Over the past couple of years, they have invited two local Holocaust survivors to speak at the Boys & Girls Club and Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester in Chappaqua and to partner with Pleasantville’s Holy Innocents Church with its lecture series, which has its own ongoing monthly speaker series.
Their goal is to bring the stories of human rights abuse victims to local venues to help residents understand their plight.
“I think it’s really good that kids are getting exposed to them at this age because there are not going to be a lot of Holocaust survivors left (soon),” Notis said of the effort that they call the Diversity Liaison Initiative.
It’s not just for students and they are now branching out on subject matter. This Sunday evening, they will again partner with Holy Innocents to present the next speaker, Rita Wagener, who grew up in Uganda when the country was ruled by dictator Idi Amin.
Fearing for her life, Wagener, who now lives in Connecticut, sought asylum and fled to Fairbanks, Alaska in 1982.
Fine said people of all ages and backgrounds in the United States aren’t cognizant of the sheer volume of abuses around the globe. It may even be more pronounced in Westchester.
“There are still a lot of civil wars going on in places like Algeria and border disputes and I think there are a lot of issues going on that we would like to cover or make people more aware of because we’re not always exposed to the news,” Fine said. “We live in a bubble in Westchester most of the time.”
They learned that two Holocaust survivors, Peter Somogyi and Betty Knoop, live in Pleasantville and Armonk, respectively. They found out about Wagener through the Boys & Girls Club, Notis said.
The two students also look for venues to bring the speakers where the audience may not be as familiar about the subject matter. Notis said there is something nice about inviting a Holocaust survivor to a church where the attendees can perhaps learn something they didn’t know before.
But the bottom line is to bring these speakers to the public any way they can.
“It’s really just having a platform at the end of the day, whether it be a church, the Boys & Girls Club,” Fine said. “It’s just giving a platform for these people to speak because that’s what really matters.”
Notis hopes that they can bring a different program to the area once every two or three months. One possibility is having someone who escaped violence in the Middle East, but for now Notis and Fine are constrained to have speakers who live in or near the area.
“I think our speakers do a really good job of presenting their stories and making sure that the audience can understand what they are going through,” Notis said.
This Sunday evening’s program with Wagener is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. Holy Innocents Church is located at 431 Bedford Rd. in Pleasantville.