When a patient at Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital in Schenectady suffered from a stroke, he lost his ability to smile.
This was devastating for both the patient and his young granddaughter, according to Elyse Wohl, 17, a volunteer at the hospital. Wohl wanted to help.
When the patient was sleeping later that day, Wohl took a paper plate, drew a smile on it and left it on the patient’s bedside table.
When Wohl stopped by his room sometime later to drop off his mail, the patient held up the plate to “smile” at her. His granddaughter was there smiling, too.
“It is one of the greatest memories I have,” Wohl said. “It was something so small. It made a difference in that little girl’s life.”
Wohl, a Niskayuna graduate of the class of 2013, has a passion for helping people.
“Elyse is the one you always go to when you want something done,” Leah Wertz, Wohl’s high school guidance counselor, said. “She is a hard worker.”
Most recently, Wohl was awarded the President’s Volunteer Service Lifetime Achievement Award. She completed 4,000 hours of community service, an achievement that often takes people 20 years to fulfill, she explained.
Wohl joined the Girl Scouts when she was in kindergarten and began tracking her community service hours when she was 9 years old. Her love for community service began when she was in the fifth grade and her Girl Scout troop helped clean up a local camp.
“It made me feel like I was doing something to make other people’s lives better,” she said.
During her senior year of high school, Wohl achieved the Gold Award, the highest honor a Girl Scout can obtain.
For Wohl’s Gold project, she decided to refurbish the equipment at the Congregation Agudat Achim playground. She got the idea when she was brought the little boy she was babysitting to play there. She noticed the boy, who has autism, really enjoyed the tire swing. But the swing was run down and dangerous, as was most of the equipment at the playground. She was determined to fix it.
“When she says she is going to do something, she does it,” Wertz said. “She is always the one to jump in and get the job done.”
After months of research, labor and planning, Wohl successfully completed the project. “The process was long but it was definitely worth it,” she said.
Wohl was a part of many other community service groups in high school, including 4-H, a youth development and agriculture group.
“It is sort of like Girl Scouts, but co-ed,” she explained. “It is a lot about youth empowerment.”
Wohl was also a member of the program Youth to Youth. In June, Niskayuna Youth to Youth presented its annual Niskayuna Community Role Model award to Wohl.
And Wohl was also a member of Niskayuna Inter-Community Service group, which is made up of students from the high school who focus on bettering the community. Wohl averaged more than 500 hours a year since her freshman year of high school. She volunteered at various other sites throughout the community, as well.
But Wohl did not just limit herself to community service.
She was also a member of the Niskayuna varsity swim team and on the track and field team. She is a lifeguard at the Schenectady JCC and teaches swimming lessons.
Wohl will be attending SUNY Oswego in the fall to study linguistics and teaching English to speakers of other languages.
“I hope to probably go to another country to teach some kids — or adults — who don’t speak English,” she said. “To help further their education so that they can be more successful.”
Wohl plans on continuing her community service once at college. She has already contacted service organizations at Oswego.
“I actually applied to be in a community service dorm,” she added.
Wohl said the reason she loves community service so much is because no matter how small an act is, it can really make a difference in a person’s life.
“Even though you are a youth,” she said. “There is still something you can do to make this world a better place.”