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Kids These Days––2015

Four local teens use their time and talent to give back



For Zoe Butchen, 15, community service is a practice that started early. “A huge part of me revolves around the idea of giving back,” she says.

A dancer, Butchen was only ten when she launched Dance Donations to distribute used costumes to studios that can’t afford their own. She has shipped costumes as far as California, but delivering costumes to a local YMCA allowed her to witness participants’ appreciation firsthand. Last year, her charitable work became personal. Her father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and she started the Dance, Shake, and Donate campaign. Inspired by Taylor Swift’s song “Shake It Off” the campaign encourages people to post videos of themselves dancing. She also organized a town-wide dance event on Main Street last year that drew over 1,000 people. “It was exciting to see how many people embraced the cause,” she says.

So far, she has raised nearly $75,000. Butchen’s stage will grow even bigger as she hopes to be invited to the World Parkinson’s Congress next fall. “There’s still a lot more to do,” she says.

Erick Vallalta, 18, moved to Ridgefield from El Salvador not speaking a word of English. He attended the Boys & Girls Club after school. There he perfected his English, made friends, and built his confidence. He credits his hard-working mother and time spent at the club for making him who he is today: “It was like a second home and family for me.” In high school, Vallalta made the transition from B&GC member to volunteer to employee, helping to make a difference for other children. He is also a member of the Keystone Club through which he’s helped with town events such as Breakfast with Santa and the Halloween party. He’s been selected to attend both regional and national Keystone conferences. The gratitude he feels for the B&GC and Ridgefield is reflected in his actions; he’s often at the club even when not scheduled to work. “It’s always been about giving back for everything they’ve given me as a child,” he says. College is on the horizon, too. “I know it’s something I can do,” Vallalta says. “I would be the first in my family to go.”

Erin Desimone, 16, has been dancing with the Enchanted Garden since she was three and says, “Dance is part of my identity.” Her love of dance and passion for helping others has led her to perform in the annual Nuts About the Nutcracker, which raises money for the Molly Ann Tango Foundation, a local organization dedicated to enriching the lives of special-needs children. One year, Desimone advocated to have a wheelchair-bound girl be part of the show and recalls how appreciative her parents were for their daughter to have that opportunity. Desimone is also a member of the Molly Ann Tango junior board, which focuses on community awareness and recipient outreach. Board members spend time with special-needs participants and deliver holiday baskets during the season. “It’s such a personal experience,” she says. Desimone is also working toward her Girl Scout Gold Award by helping the Prospector Theater. Thinking about the future, she knows that dance and helping others with special needs will continue to be part of her life. 

Patrick Francis’ decision in fifth grade to play the euphonium, a tuba-like instrument, has led to a continuing commitment to music. Now a high-school senior, he has added trombone, tuba, French horn, trumpet, and percussion to his repertoire. Francis, 17, plays in nearly every ensemble in RHS, including the pit orchestra. “At first you’re all working separately but once you come together, it’s really amazing,” he says. He also plays in the annual Funk-Raiser to help raise money for the school’s music program. Francis is the vice president of music talent for the Ridgefield Music and Arts Center, a student-led group that organizes events around town to give young musicians a chance to showcase their talents. RMAC musicians perform at the Holiday Stroll and host Music Fest, a day-long festival held in Ballard Park. Additionally, Francis plays in the Westchester County Youth Orchestra and for St. Mary’s, where he helps out with younger kids. He currently gives private lessons—including teaching trombone to the musical director of RHS. He enjoys teaching and plans on majoring in music education.

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