Class of 2013

Community service pays off for trio of graduates


The Valley Stream Kiwanis Club does a lot to help children in the community. High school seniors might not be kids anymore, but they are still young enough to benefit from the service organization’s generosity.

On June 12, the Kiwanis Club presented scholarships to three graduating seniors during a dinner at Café Marcello. The students were chosen because of their own commitment to helping others.

South High School seniors Aimée Kaplan and Kayla Neske, along with North High graduate Jessica Vespoli, were each presented with checks for $500 at the June 12 dinner. They were chosen from a pool of 15 applicants from five different high schools.

“I’m really honored,” Neske said. “It’s going to take off some of that financial burden. Any little bit helps.”

All three students found out about the scholarship opportunity from their respective guidance counselors. They had to write about their community service and submit letters of recommendation. Karin Hayat, the vice president of Kiwanis and coordinator of the scholarship program, said a committee reviewed every candidate. The three girls who were chosen stood out, she explained.

“They were diligent. They were well-rounded,” she said. “All their references had nothing but good things to say about them.”

Hayat said that the winners were chosen on a basis of academics, community service and financial need. She said committee members wanted to select students with long histories of volunteer service, not just those who have done activities to pad their college applications.

“Community service is a huge part of my life,” said Kaplan, who will be attending Adelphi University in the fall. She plans to study education to become a high school English teacher.

Kaplan started the Stories in Español program at the Henry Waldinger Memorial Library, where she and other volunteers read and sing to students in Spanish. She said there was a need to provide greater support to families that do not speak English as a primary language.

She also helps out with a friend’s Blanket for Babies program, which provided items for hospitalized infants.

Neske volunteered at Barrett Park for the village’s summer camp program for two years before she was hired as a counselor. She also gives her time to VFW Post 1650. Nearly every Saturday, she can be found at the hall helping out with administrative work and cleaning.

As president of the National Honor Society at South, she has also been involved in many community services activities including food and clothing drives, breast cancer walks and tutoring.

She will attend the University of New Haven to study criminal justice. Neske plans to concentrate on investigative services and forensic psychology as she hopes to work for the FBI in the future.

Vespoli has been involved with numerous fundraising activities with the National Honor Society at North. She has helped support the March of Dimes, as well as Rebuilding Long Island, an organization that constructs ramps at the homes of disabled citizens.

She organized a team that took part in Relay for Life at Carey High School, raising $6,850 along the way, and has participated in her school’s Intergenerational Dinner which provides a meal and entertainment for local seniors citizens.

“I feel that it’s important to give back to the community,” Vespoli said, “especially when people don’t have the chances you do.”

Vespoli will attend Cazenovia College, near Syracuse, where she will work to become a special education teacher.

Kaplan said she is very grateful for the scholarship because she will be paying for college herself. She also said it is rewarding that her hard work has paid off — literally. Even as she heads to college, Kaplan says she plans to stay involved in Valley Stream and hopes to encourage others to give back. “I’m a firm believer in the quote, ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world,’” she said.