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By Janice Llanes Fabry

When Leith Colton joined the Carver Center four-and-a-half years ago, she soon found herself with the opportunity to provide mental health services at the longest- running community-based organization in Port Chester. She came with the knowledge that teaching wellness, helping to promote assertive communication, and engaging in healthy relationships within organizations was long-term work that she was willing to take on.

“Joe Kwasniewski [Carver CEO] and I envisioned a mental wellness program that would focus on people’s strengths, while acknowledging their challenges and supporting them with a skill set that they might not have,” she said. “We all struggle at various points in our lives and I’m really grateful for the people who have taught me skills that have helped me feel more at peace with myself or my circumstances.”

As Carver’s Community Wellness Director, Colton has supported a culture and programming that includes mindfulness. She believes that practices supporting self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and healthy decision making have tremendous implications for organizational health and community resilience.

"Our mindfulness program is designed to provide students with techniques, habits, and mental training that can set them up for healthier lifelong skills in the social emotional arena,” explained Colton. In addition, mindfulness can help teachers better manage the daily demands they face in an effort to best serve students and families.

More than just the buzzword du jour, mindfulness is a nourishing combination of awareness, self-regulation, and “presentness” that can lead to greater empathy, compassion, and balance, despite life’s distractions and demands. Mindfulness in education provides youth with tools that enhance their ability to learn.

Prior to her non-profit experiences, Colton worked in the corporate world but felt a deep tug to do something that held more meaning. “I came to the helping professions at a point in my life where I had lost my way and I needed something that would fill me with a sense of purpose,” said Colton, who became an EMT for the Armonk Fire Department.

“The experiences I’ve had as an EMT have been pivotal, life-changing,” she noted. “I’ve come to realize that what one knows to be true can change in a minute. I’ve spent the past number of years trying to make every minute count.”

It was at a mental health conference that Colton made an acquaintance who introduced her to Kwasniewski at a time when Carver Center was well positioned for positive change. About the unwavering support she has received from Kwasniewski, as well as Port Chester-Rye Union Free School District Assistant Superintendent Joseph Durney, Colton remarked, “These two visionary leaders have been amazing thinking partners and I could not be where I am without their support and guidance,” she noted. “My life purpose has become the work that I do. Whether in my role as an EMT or in teaching mindfulness skills to others, I need to contribute to a more positive world.”

Colton first introduced mindfulness skills and basic knowledge about brain/body function to Carver’s summer campers in 2015. She taught 14 groups a week during the six-week program.

“I was determined to reach as many children and counselors as I could and introduce them to these transformative skills,” she explained. “Over and over, kids expressed how they used these tools, especially mindful breathing, to deal with their life challenges.”

In the last year and a half, Colton has brought mindfulness programming to daytime classes and to the afterschool programs at Thomas A. Edison and John F. Kennedy Elementary Schools, as well as Port Chester Middle School. Today, she supports the 85 teachers, administrators, and Carver personnel who have participated in training through an agreement with Mindful Schools.

She hopes to continue to expand the work she has begun in order to include more children, families, and teachers. “Mindfulness can open our hearts in ways that give us the opportunity to lovingly connect,” said Colton, who has a daily mindful meditation practice. “The practices have made me more compassionate and have provided me with more mental clarity and equanimity. There is no end to the implications, so we will continue to infuse mindfulness into much of what we’re doing here at Carver.”

CAPTION:

Leith Colton, Community Wellness Director at The Carver Center

The Rye YMCA is pleased to announce the appointment of Susan Olson to the position of Development Director. She takes the place of Sally Wright  who retired in September after 20 years of service to the Y. 

“Susan’s strong ties to the Rye community and her track record as a  successful fundraiser make her a great addition to our team,” said Rye Y  Executive Director Gregg Howells. “Under Susan’s leadership, we look  forward to a new level of engagement with our members, donors, and  volunteers, one that will allow us to pursue new opportunities and meet any  challenges that come our way.”  

Olson, who holds a Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from  University of Virginia, comes to the Y with over a dozen years of experience  in development and volunteer management. Most recently she served as the  Major Gifts Officer & Capital Campaign Manager for Holmes Presbyterian  Camp & Conference Center. Prior to that, she managed all development  activities at The Osborn Retirement Community.  

“Having lived in Rye for almost 25 years and raised three children here, I  recognize the important role the Rye Y plays in this community, not only in  Rye, but also in Port Chester, Harrison, Mamaroneck, and Larchmont,”  remarked Olson. “The Rye Y has such a strong commitment to outreach and  I am excited to be a part of the team that will continue to provide programs  and activities that are accessible to all.”

By Robin Jovanovich

 

While one of the City’s smallest departments, RyeTV does more than its fair share of keeping the community connected. That was the message delivered in an impressive presentation by the Rye Cable and Communications Committee to the City Council Wednesday night.

 

During the 2017 budget discussion process, the Council asked RyeTV to provide them with an overview of their programming, services, and finances. With Rye High School now needing some of the longtime 1,000-square-foot studio space — the control room, in fact — for an expansion, RyeTV Access Coordinator Nicole Levitsky, about to celebrate her 19th year here, and the Cable Committee worked quickly to present a picture of what they do, and the central role they play.

 

As Councilwoman Julie Killian said before the presentation, “I didn’t know how talented a group we had until I became the Council liaison.”

After an extensive search, the Rye Youth Council welcomed Diane Rosenthal as its new executive director June 20.

“We believe that Diane’s considerable experience in youth development, her fundraising skills, and her many years working in the non-profit sector will help take our organization to the next level,” said Board President Lisa Dominici Faries.

Rosenthal worked previously as executive director of Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship and in the same position at Literacy Volunteers prior to that.

In just a few short weeks Rosenthal already has a good feel about the job and the community. “I am glad to have the opportunity to continue working with young people and pleased to work in a town with such an involved and committed community,” she said in an interview at her office on the second floor of the Rye YMCA this week. She added, “And I’m proud to be a part of an organization like the Youth Council, which provides a safety network. With its long history as a youth advocate, it’s unique in Westchester.”

While Rosenthal is still getting her feet wet — with internal tasks, paperwork — she has already met with school principals and a number of local leaders, and she is thinking ahead.

“I’d like to be a thought leader, addressing the increasing challenges youth face, working together with other local organizations,” she stated. “I want the Council to be both a partner and a player.”

She has been working with the Westchester Children’s Association in White Plains and is excited about their GPS (Global Policy Solutions) for kids.

Among her goals at the Youth Council is expanding the kinds of workshops offered and the youth employment field. “We’re taking a closer look at where we’ve had success and we will build on that. We’re also focusing on ways to ensure teens make healthy choices and not succumb to peer pressure, which is enormous.”

Rosenthal earned her undergraduate degree at Hunter College and her M.A. in Education at Fordham. She went on to doctoral studies in Dance History. What wasn’t in the Youth Council press release is the fact that she was also a professional dancer, with the American Dance Theater. (We hope to learn a few steps from her at the Youth Council gala at the Capitol Theatre November 18.)

Married and the mother of two grown children, she is happy to share that her children are following in her footsteps — her son is head of the upper school at a New York City private school and her daughter works for a nonprofit. “They’re both safely out of the nest.”

 

— Robin Jovanovich