All the RAY award recipients pose for a group photo at the outdoor ceremony.
By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
Tuesday night in front of the Westwood Town Hall, the Rotary Club of Westwood and Westwood Youth & Family Services honored this year’s four recipients of the Westwood Recognize a Youth (RAY) Award. While there were changes, like the ceremony being held outdoors and congratulatory handshakes being eliminated, the crop of generous and altruistic young people was as strong as ever.
The first honoree was Laurel Barnett, who was nominated by Lina Arena-DeRosa, the Director of the Westwood Council on Aging. Laurel has volunteered at the COA since her freshman year in high school, organizing a group of musicians who play at COA luncheons called “Music Matters.” When COVID hit this spring and the COA closed, Laurel’s work moved online, where she organized a YouTube channel that featured Tri-M Music Honor Society students playing for seniors.
In her nomination, Arena-DeRosa described Barnett as “talented”, “unassuming,” “kind and giving,” “one-in-a-million,” “talented,” “creative and willing,” and “very easy to work with.” She should have added "humble," because when asked how her participation in community service will impact her in college and her life ahead, Laurel noted how her work presented an incredible opportunity to learn how to coordinate and work as part of a team with people of so many different talents and ideas. She then spent the majority of her speech thanking Lina for her support and for letting her quartet play, as well as individually naming the students who played in the quartet over the last four years so that they could be recognized as well.
The next recipient was Westwood High School junior Ruby Fyffe, who was nominated by her neighbors, Sandra Horn, Mimi O’Shea and Dr. Gregory and Lorraine Randolph. Ruby is an intern for representative Paul McMurtry and advocated for a bill (H.4202 Act), which is designed to make Epi Pens cheaper for those in need by buying them in bulk. This was personal for Ruby, who discovered she has a peanut allergy and needed an Epi Pen, which can cost over six hundred dollars.
In response to the same question Laurel was asked, she noted: “When I’m older, I’d love to be able to go into public service and help serve my community that way, and doing community service over the past couple years has really showed me that talking to people and hearing their real voices will be invaluable to that line of work.” When pressed on what exactly “going into public service” could entail for her, she responded: “I’d really love to study history, and then maybe go into law. Then I’d love to contribute whatever I can to government and helping the people of Massachusetts, or the country.”
Jeremy Wolfe, a third-grade teacher at Hanlon Elementary School nominated the youngest award recipient, Pragna Lal, a current fourth-grader who created a friendship week at her school.
“Pragna came to our school with an idea to start a friendship group in the Hanlon School," explained Wolfe, "where they would plan a week’s worth of activities where kids in the class and kids in school would get to know each other through games and other activities; just providing opportunities for them to make friends with each other, and learn more about each other. We played something called ‘that’s me’ where you would ask, [for example], ‘if you have a pet?’ and you would stand up and say ‘that’s me' and everyone would look around and see who they have something in common with.”
The plan is to continue the week this year, over the internet if need be, because Wolf pointed out that the friendships made during Pragna’s week persist to this day.
“Something that I really enjoyed about Pragna and her class is that when the pandemic hit, the kids found other ways to connect with each other. Pragna made this beautiful website with these games that we played, and we’d have a ‘lunch with Mr. Wolfe’ time, where kids can come and play these games and connect with each other. And I remember even after school ended, the lunchtime conversations and things like that, the kids kept meeting without me. So even without me, they were still connecting with each other, talking with each other, and building on those relationships they had started in school with the friendship group.”
Last but not least was Roisin O’Keeffe, who was nominated for the award by Pauline and Tessa Scolaro. Roisin did some work with Westwood Youth and Family services, but also created the first Developing Nations Awareness Club (DNAC) at Westwood High School. Roisin explained that the DNAC was especially focused on building a water pump for a town in Nicaragua.
“Me and another girl worked to educate our classmates about developing nations and the unique struggles they face. We really focused on one town in particular, Quezalguaque in Nicaragua, and building a new water pump there, and what that meant for the community. My friend went there with Brookline High, and we’ve been working with Brookline High School to find out more information and to find out how they’re progressing. I graduated last year, so I’m at college now, but I’m still trying to broaden my worldview and find out about more places like that - people who have struggles you don’t really hear about often.”
While Roisin has left Westwood High, her legacy in the form of the continuing work of the DANC club continues. She explained that the club has transitioned to focusing on women’s hospitals this year.
“In the towns nearby there, they have women’s-only hospitals so women can have a safe place to get information, give birth, everything like that, and so they’re really focused on that this year.”
While this year, above all else, reinforces that you never know what the future holds, it is clear the future is bright for those four young women.