POWER OF SPORTS: Howie Hecht of Brookline was hooked the very first time he volunteered at Yom Sport, a daylong event for adults with physical and mental disabilities that takes place every August in Newton. His responsibilities have increased over the past 10 years, he said, but the reward has remained every bit worthwhile.
“It’s a really amazing day,” Hecht said, “just incredibly heart-warming.”
Open to all faiths, Yom Sport was founded 18 years ago by the agencies of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies. According to Needham resident Jan Klein, executive chairwoman of Yom Sport, the goal is to exceed last year’s tally of 165 athletes, plus 100 volunteers who help with parking and registration, assist individual athletes, serve as team and event leaders, hand out water, and act as cheerleaders.
Hecht, who takes photos as a side business to his full-time entrepreneurial product management job for high-tech start-ups, volunteered to take photographs at his first Yom Sport, in 2004. Two years later, he was invited to serve on the Yom Sport Executive Committee, to which he suggested presenting a team photo as a keepsake to every athlete (they also receive a T-shirt, certificate of participation, and at least two medals).
The idea proved so popular that a photo station was incorporated into the official rotation in 2010. Since then, additional photographers and volunteers have assisted him in keeping up to eight photo printers continually running in order to produce hundreds of prints during the event, with supplies discounted and donated by Newtonville Camera, and Lucite frames donated by Malden International Designs. In addition, hundreds of candid photographs are posted every year on an online gallery.
“It takes a lot of coordination and hard work, but being able to capture the athletes’ excitement in this way feels really good,” said Hecht, noting that returning athletes bring their medals and photos from previous years as an alumni status symbol. “Seeing their joy is what keeps me coming back.”
The registration deadline has been extended to Wednesday for this year’s event, which will take place next Sunday (with a rain date of Aug. 25) starting at 11 a.m. on the Jewish Community Center field, 333 Nahanton St. in Newton. For more information, visit www.yomsport.org.
JAPAN SAYS THANKS: Born and raised in Japan, Amya Miller of Newton was deeply affected by the news on March 11, 2011, that a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami ravaged the country’s northeastern region of Tohoku, causing flooding, landslides, fires, widespread structural and infrastructure damage; the toll included a damaged nuclear power plant that is still leaking radioactive materials.
“It’s what I assume hell looks like,” said Miller, recalling the mangled cars, fishing vessels stranded inland, houses lying on their sides with roofs carried to other parts of town, buildings in varying degrees of collapse, and telephone poles sticking through windows. “Everything was blown to bits, mile after mile.”
The humanitarian response was immediate and global. Looking for her own way to help, Miller made numerous trips with volunteer organizations before moving to Japan on a semipermanent basis in September 2011.
Miller now volunteers as the global public relations director for Rikuzentakata, a city in the region, and she connects donors with recipients as executive director of Vigor Japan. In addition, she recently returned to the Boston area as a translator and guide for three representatives from the heavily damaged coastal city of Ofunato, who insisted on formally expressing their appreciation face-to-face to donors for financial aid and other contributions in their time of great need.
According to Miller, business owner Hiroaki Konno and city councilors Kiyoshi Fuchigami and Rikiya Ito paid for the journey out of their own pockets. The weeklong trip included visits with Newton Mayor Setti Warren and organizations such as the Japan Society of Boston, Japanese Women’s Club of Boston, and Fairfax County Search and Rescue Team in Virginia.
Miller, who plans to return to Newton when her visa expires in December 2014, said the instant connection between donors and the recipients of their aid was touching to observe.
“They looked like long-lost friends, with goodwill on one side and gratitude on the other,” said Miller, emphasizing that the group was solely providing an update on rebuilding efforts and not seeking additional contributions. “I just want people to know their generosity really matters. This extension of international support is a beautiful gesture that will be appreciated in Japan for generations to come.”
COLLEGE DREAMS: Fifty high-achieving high school students from underserved communities in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island attended camp last month at Dean College in Franklin. Instead of sports, crafts, and other traditional activities, however, these students were preparing for the next step in their academic career.
Michael Cameron, one of the directors of Camp College New England, said the three-day program was revived after a 10-year hiatus through grants from the New England Counselors of Color Bridging Access to College, and the New England Association for College Admission Counseling.
The juniors and seniors were selected by community-based organizations and paired with mentors. Workshops covered the college search and application process, SAT exams and essay writing, and financial aid. The students also enjoyed a keynote address by educator, actor, and writer Steven Tejada, a college fair, dance, talent show, and the opportunity to sleep in the residence hall.
According to Cameron, the goal was for students to gain an understanding of the value of a college degree, as well as the personalized attention, knowledge, and confidence to transition to higher education.
“The students were from a wide range of backgrounds, but they all share the goal of attending college,” Cameron said. “We’re bridging the gap to make sure they’re successful, and we’ll see that through until the day they have their bachelor’s degree in their hand.”
ON BOARD: Needham resident Michael Nathanson (inset) as been appointed board chairman of the National Brain Tumor Society in Newton. The chief executive officer, president, and chairman of the Colony Group in Boston had previously served as the board’s vice chairman.
Nathanson is also a member of the Israel Bonds National New Leadership board, and has served on the Investment Committee of the Massachusetts Service Alliance, and as a trustee and director of the Needham Historical Society.