Blast from the Past: Meet Judge Colin O’Donnell,1979 Youth of the Year

If there was any doubt about how meaningful it is to earn the title of Youth of the Year and be a Club alum, one need only to ask Judge Colin O’DonnellColin joined Grenville Baker Boys & Girls Club when he was seven years old. Since the age of seven, he immersed himself in every aspect of the Club: sportsCanadian Camp, and Camp Small Fry. He also took part in a number of community efforts.  Ultimately, his dedication

Colin receiving his Youth of the Year Award in 1979

 to the Club, his compassion for others, and his academic success earned him the title of New York State Youth of the Year in 1979 And while that may have seemed a capstone achievement at the time, it was just the beginning. Colin would go on to serve as a camp counselor, coach, and even join the Board of Directors in 1988 — a role he continues to play to this very day.  

Colin O’Donnell began his 52-year connection to Grenville Baker Boys Club when he received his welcome letter from Woody Lewis in 1969 at the age of seven.  New to Locust Valley and with two hard working immigrant parents, the Grenville Baker Boys Club became Colin’s second home.  There wasn’t one athletic or recreational activity that Colin wasn’t a part of — whether it was playing flag football, baseball, basketball, joining the bowling league, woodshop, rifle range or just playing games and socializing — Colin was determined to be a part of it all.    

For several years, Colin attended Camp Small Fry, the Boys’ Club day camp, where he was not only Camper of the Week but eventually a counselor.  He has fond memories of overnight trips to Gettysburg, Montauk and Tobay Beach where the campers slept under the stars.  He also went on to spend time as a Canadian Camper.  It was one of the greatest camping experiences he had as a teenager.  Under the ever-watchful eye of 

Executive Director, Woody Lewis and the rest of the counselors, Colin learned how to fish, do his own laundry and water ski on Holmes Lake. His experience at the Club’s camps was so positive that when he was eligible   — Colin became a Camp Small Fry Counselor and learned his first lesson in paying taxes — when Woody took FICA out of his $15 per week paycheck!  He was a counselor and summer employee for five years and became the Club’s and the Boys Club of America’s New York State Youth of the Year in 1979.   

Colin went on to Bucknell University on a partial Club scholarship — then Seton Hall law school and in 1988, during his first year in the Nassau County District Attorney’s office, he was asked by Woody to join Grenville Baker Boys & Girls Club’s Board of Directors.  He continued to remain active in the Club participating in the Alumni Association as president, coaching and refereeing baseball, soccer and basketball.  He also initiated the Teen Tour travel Camp and chaperoned ski and snowboard trips.   

Currently, Colin resides in Bayville and is an elected Judge of the Nassau County District Court.  Colin is the first Club member to be elected President of the Board of Directors. During his tenure he oversaw the successful building campaign and construction of the new gymnasium and the increase of the Club’s endowment portfolio. Having been active in all aspects of the Club’s activities and volunteer governance he feels that it is important to give back and provide opportunities to our communities’ youth.  

Today, Colin is an elected Judge of the Nassau County District Court

Colin’s Essay for his Youth of the Year application was reprinted in The Leader

An Ordinary Afternoon that was Extraordinary

People often ask how Grenville Baker Boys & Girls Club “inspires and enables all young people to realize their potential as productive, responsible and caring citizens and community leaders of tomorrow.” The answer is as complex as childhood, itself. Afterall, there are so many ways to interpret what it means to be “productive, responsible, caring and a leader” … and there are even more ways in which to accomplish these feats.

The process of growing up is not linear; it is not one or two lessons that make a person who they eventually come to be. Rather it is the collection of experiences and the presence of various role models that shape children on their unique journeys toward adulthood. With this sentiment in mind, our Club provides a wide range of experiences and positive relationships to help children learn, grow, and flourish. Indeed, our programmatic framework is based on five core areas that allow children to explore their interests, build their confidence, and develop a sense of belonging and community. These are: Character & Leadership Development, Education & Career Development, Health and Life Skills, The Arts, and Sports, Fitness and Recreation.

Oftentimes these core areas are evident through formal programs. But sometimes these values are best imparted when they are woven into simple, seemingly everyday experiences. That’s what happened on Friday, February 5th. On a sunny afternoon between snowstorms, our staff at our Bayville K-5 site felt that it was a wonderful day for a stroll along the Sound. As the weather was sunny and mild, the kids were excited to be near the water to explore and enjoy the fresh air. As they walked along the shoreline, Club staff helped the kids identify interesting objects like shells, sea glass, and fish bones.

Beyond the natural beauty, the kids also observed garbage and debris strewn about. Our staff took this opportunity to discuss the environment and how each person has a responsibility for caring for their surroundings… not just for their own benefit, but for the benefit of all. The kids immediately latched on to the idea of a beach clean-up! When they had done all they could do before the sun went down, one child, Kawaun, remarked that cleaning up was not only important and productive, but also a rewarding way to “hang out with my best buds.”

What I love about a story like this is that it may seem ordinary — children enjoying time with friends, skipping rocks, and cleaning up the beach. But this experience was so much more than kids exploring the great outdoors; it was science, community service, social interactions, and physical exercise all intertwined. In this way, the story of an afternoon outing is quite extraordinary.

Exploring The Arts 

Outdoor Art

As part of our College Prep program, our Club has traditionally offered a “City Club, which aims to introducteens to new experiences in New York City. In the past, many of the outings featured trips to Broadway shows and museums. We deeply believe that young people benefit from cultural and other new experiences – broadening their outlook on the world and introducing a range of careers. However, with New York City’s cultural options limited these days and with safety concerns top-of-mind, the Club has continued to think creatively to give kids enriching experienceout of the city. 

In November, when kids had a few days off of school, our Teen Program Director, Stephanie Urio, came up with an outing that offered both fresh air and art. On a crisp fall day, the group travelled to Storm Kingan outdoor art museum in New Windsor, NY, where Club members spent two hours walking the vast grounds to consider the massive sculptures. It was an interesting combination of art and nature and the changing fall leaves added an extra element of beauty. The teens reported that some of the favorite sculptures included the Buddha, Sea Change, the Eyes, and Mirror Fence. The reflective aspects of Mirror Fence and the surrounding mountains made that a great spot for pictures and enjoying one another’s company. Both our teens and Club staff were glad to have had the chance to spend time together and reflect on this art experience.  

Exploring the Culinary Arts

Younger children also had a chance to explore new experiences through our Kids in the Kitchen program. This program is a favorite, and younger children enjoy learning to make things from scratch. While they are feeling empowered as chefs, we take every opportunity to teach them about nutrition at the same time.  

Last month, our fourth-grade group had a lot of fun making veggie spring rollsSince we didn’t have to “hide the veggies” for this one, we snuck in something else: a lesson in teamwork and listening. To this end, our fourth graders discussed what they wanted to prepare and the group made its final decision together, making sure that they took turns listening to each other and understanding everyone’s feelings. During the discussion, the kids also learned about different types of sushi and where it originated. It was great seeing our kids learning and eating something new. In fact, some of the kids had never eaten a spring roll before and wanted more… even with all those veggies! 

For the Love of Pets: Teens learn about Veterinary Science with Banfield Pet Hospital

On December 9, 2020 our teens had a very special and interactive presentation with a veterinarian from Banfield Pet Hospitalthe largest veterinary practice in the country with more than 1,000 hospitals. For the session, our teens virtually met with Dr. Roxanne Suarez, Chief of Staff at the Banfield Middletown Hospital, along with special guest, Rocky the Pomeranian. The purpose of the event was to help teens explore what kind of schooling and skills are needed to become a veterinarian or a veterinarian technician and what it’s like to care for all kinds of animals.  

Dr. Suarez explained that she specializes in the care of small animals but that there are a number of other areas of specialization, including horsesfarm animals, and exotic animals. Our teen group was highly engaged, asking questions about Dr. Suarez’s experience delivering baby animalswhat surgery is likeand how she knew she wanted to become a veterinarian. This last question was especially relevant to our group as they prepare to graduate high school and pursue higher education.  

Watch the Banfield Pet Academy Series!

As part o f the session, our teens were provided with informational books about “The Science of Loving Pets” and invited to watch a series of videos about caring for animals called “Banfield Pet Academy for Kids. These videos are hosted by Banfield doctors and licensed veterinary technicians from around the country in which they share their love of pets and the profession. Plus, the videos offer insights that kids can use right now to understand their pets as topics range from “The Language of Pets” to “Pet Tricks and Treats. You can view and share the whole video series by Clicking Here.   

This presentation by Dr. Suarez was part of a larger partnership with Boys & Girls Club of America to inspire young people from all walks of life, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds to consider a career in veterinary medicine.  Moreover, Banfield has made a generous donation to Grenville Baker Boys & Girls Club as part of its commitment to supporting youth of diverse backgroundsOur Clubour teens, and future pets of the world are incredibly grateful. 


To learn more about Banfield Pet Hospitals, you can follow them on:

FB: (BanfieldPetHospital) 

IG: @banfieldpethospital 

TW: @banfield