Joann McAdam has lived in Harrison for 13 years. She has two children—11 and 12—and a full-time job as a behavioral therapist. She has every reason to claim she is too busy to help with community projects or volunteer work.
Yet McAdam is a passionate and active volunteer who spends hours each week working for our community. McAdam is the vice president of the Mamaroneck-Harrison-Rye Kiwanis Club, a little-talked about, but very important, community group.
Though less known than other community groups like Rotary or Lions, the Kiwanis Club International is actually the second oldest, and third largest, service club in the world. It is non-denominational and non-political, founded in Detroit, MI, in 1915. It now consists of 8,600 clubs in 82 countries with some 340,000 club members.
The name itself is a bit of a mouthful, adapted from the expression "Nunc Kee-wanis" from the Otchipew Native Americans which translates to "we trade", "we share our talents", "we make a noise" and "we meet." None of these fully cover the Kiwanis mission statement, which is “a global organization of volunteers dedicated to changing the world one child and one community at a time."
The Rye-Harrison-Mamaroneck club has been in operation for some 30 years and has 19 members who are focused on improving the lives of underprivileged children in the three communities.
McAdams says the hidden need in our community is overwhelming.
“You would be shocked to see the level of local need. It is huge and most of it goes unnoticed," she said. "There are children that need help in our more affluent neighborhoods and there are others living in basements. Both the parents and children are very private and as a result we don’t see just how desperate some families are. I had been part of this town for so long and I never even saw it.”
McAdam works with Harrison Director of Community Services Nina Marracini to identify families in need and to distribute the goods to maintain the families’ privacy.
The volunteers do, however, have hands-on interactions and are overwhelmed by what they find.
“Last Thanksgiving I delivered dinner to a family who had not been able to pick it up," McAdam recalled."The mom told me things had recently become much worse than just living week-to-week. They were now focused on how to just survive each day with three kids and bare cupboards. It was heartbreaking to see. You cant walk away from that and not be affected.”
McAdam’s efforts have also affected her family.
“My kids are now very active in volunteer projects and have a better understanding of what the world is really like—not just what they see," she said. "They come to me regularly with clothes and toys that they want to share with others.”
In fact, one of McAdam’s most touching moments came when her daughter came to her with her favorite shirt.
“She handed me her shirt saying she wanted to donate it to someone who needed it," McAdam recalls. "She said ‘What if another child isn’t lucky enough to have a favorite shirt?”
The Mamaroneck-Harrison-Rye club sponsors children to annual sleep-away camp, provides food and household supplies for families in need, purchases ipads and other tools that allow for increased communication for local children with impairments, sponsors children’s sports teams and runs an annual bike helmet day, assisted by local police, where they give away 300 bike helmets. They also provide college scholarships to students from Harrison High School and surrounding areas.
They accomplish all of this by holding fundraising initiatives throughout the year, including their most successful event, the annual Mamaroneck car show.
Members meet every other week at the Rye Golf club and the group bonds socially .
“The nice thing about this is that it is service-oriented, but it’s also social. We become our own Kiwanian family,” McAdam explained.
The members would love more locals to join their club and their efforts and McAdam urges locals to set aside time in their busy lives to help.
“The more members we have the more we can do,” McAdam said. “Make time—if you have the time to get a manicure or to read a newspaper, you have time to help a local child in need. Just a couple of hours can make a big difference.”
McAdam says she gets more from her work with Kiwanis than even those they serve.
“When you can help kids in your community and see them walk away with a happy smile you feel better about yourself in every way," she said. "Personally, I can’t get enough of it.”
She says that every Kiwanis member shares that sense of satisfaction and achievement.
“Each person who joins our club is just another helping hand toward giving a child what they are deserving of...warm clothes, food and something to feel special about," she said. "You can’t help but feel amazingly good about that.”