Oh, the places they’ll go…
Our second annual round-up of inspiring local teens who are taking the world by storm.
Pool balls and cues
courtesy of Modell’s Port Chester
Photographs by William Taufic
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"Youth,” as George Bernard Shaw famously said, “is wasted on the young.” We disagree. This year’s crop of terrific Greenwich teens makes the most of every minute of every day. Their interests, which they tackle with energy and focus, are more in the nature of all-consuming passions. Included in the group are a prizewinning filmmaker, a budding physicist out to change the face of medicine, an ice hockey whiz with an eye on the 2011 Deaflympics, and a visionary who used his fight against a life-threatening illness to start a foundation for children’s cancer research. If there is a common thread to be found in this diverse group of talented teens, it’s that they are modest about their accomplishments — academic excellence and philanthropy are a given. Pushing the envelope is as natural to them as breathing, and they care deeply about the future of the world in which they live — and know it is in their hands. We’re not worried.
The Happy Camper
The next time you’re wondering about donating to the Boys and Girls Club of Greenwich, take a moment to remember Jonathan Drosos, who was named the organization’s 2009 Youth of the Year. “It made me who I am,” he says bluntly. When Jonathan was seven his mother enrolled him in Camp Simmons, the summer camp on Lake Avenue. For a single working mother, it was the perfect solution to day care or having a latchkey kid, and that fall she signed him up for the afterschool program. “It definitely gave me a place to go where I could get done what I needed to,” says Jonathan, “and, at the same time, have a great time.”
He fell in love with basketball at the club, played for them all through middle and high school, and when he turned sixteen joined the staff part-time. Throughout high school he ran a basketball clinic and was a sports counselor at Camp Simmons. “As both a counselor and coach, Jonathan has solid values and strong leadership skills,” says Don Palmer, the club’s operations director. “And since he came through as a member, he knows how to relate to these kids.”
“The staff was so welcoming,” Jonathan says of his early days at the club, “and I made a lot of friends quickly. We had help with homework and once we knocked that out we could do whatever we wanted, which is how I became interested in basketball.” This fall Jonathan will play Division III hoops for the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, where he’ll study engineering. A first generation American (his mother emigrated from the Philippines, his father from Greece), he will be the first in his family to graduate from college; for this milestone he credits Kevin Butler, the club’s former education coordinator. “He gave me the confidence to sign up for an interview at Brunswick,” Jonathan recalls. “He kept at me for two years, and I ended up with a full scholarship my freshman year.
I would never have done it without him. I really would encourage parents to take their kids to the Boys and Girls Club,” he concludes. “It can change a kid’s life.”
The Confident Competitor
Natasha Kingshott started playing squash when she was nine and entered her first tournament on a whim when she was eleven. “I had no idea what to expect,” she says, “and I’d never experienced that kind of energy and competitive spirit. I lost every match! I was overwhelmed yet was fascinated. While you’re competitive, you also have this unbelievable respect for your opponent. You want them to play their best because it raises your game.”
Natasha never looked back, and today she is ranked third in the country, plays on the United States National Junior Squad, and has participated in international meets in Hong Kong and India. “That’s another aspect of the game that I love,” she says. “It’s given me the opportunity to meet kids from all over the world who share the same passion.”
Natasha was a leading light of the Greenwich Academy team, which in 2009 won its second straight national championship (the fourth in five years). She breaks a sweat every day, playing practice matches and cross-training for agility and strength. A combination of lightning-fast moves and fierce concentration, squash has been compared to physical chess. “There’s the physical component, the technique and the fitness, but it’s a huge mental game,” she says. “It’s just you, on the court by yourself, and you have to be mentally strong.”
Quick, intelligent and competitive off the court as well, Natasha was a National Merit Scholar finalist, valedictorian of her class and received the Greenwich Academy History and French Language Awards. She will play squash for Harvard this fall. “I think it’s a sport that brings out your true self,” she says. “When you’re down you have to pull yourself back up, and that translates to so many aspects of life. Squash captures that.”
The Power Patient
With his sun-streaked hair and infectious smile, Brad Davis looks like he’s never been sick a day in his life. Rewind to 2006 and the picture changes. He had just started at Greenwich High and was happily making new friends and playing on the water polo team. Then, suddenly, he felt rotten and started sleeping twenty hours a day. He was quickly referred to the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital at the Westchester Medical Center, where a painful bone marrow biopsy nailed the sort of diagnosis that turns a family upside down: acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
“We found out the day before Thanksgiving,” he says wryly.
“I really didn’t know how to react so I just said, ‘This sucks.’ Two hours later I started seven days of chemo.” The debilitating treatments would last another nine months, during which Brad home-schooled and fought off isolation with IMs, texting and Facebook. “The doctors and nurses treated me like an adult,” says Brad, who credits their upbeat attitude with his amazing recovery. “If it had to happen, I was in the right place.”
During that first bout of chemo he asked friends to raise money for children’s cancer research, which he was appalled to discover receives only 3 percent of funding nationwide. A week later they showed up with two shoeboxes and dumped $5,000 on his bed. The BRAD Fund — Benefiting Research Achieving Dreams — was born. When Brad lost his hair and didn’t like any of the hats he saw, he designed a very cool ski hat with flaps and blithely phoned Shep and Ian Murray of Vineyard Vines. “I told them my idea, and they said they’d be over that afternoon to hear my business plan,” he says. Being Brad, he had one. After the break-even point, proceeds from the 600 hats sold to date went directly to the BRAD Fund, which in 2008 presented the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital with $5,000 at a walk-a-thon honoring Brad. This summer the fund sponsored a bike-a-thon from Yorktown, Virginia, to San Francisco, selling baseball hats, bumper stickers, wristbands and water bottles to raise awareness and cash.
Today Brad is in remission and on a maintenance protocol until May 2010. He’ll be a senior at Greenwich High this year and wants to be a lawyer and go to college in California (he loves the warm weather, he quips). “Even though it was a horrible thing that happened, I know that good has come out of it,” Brad says soberly, then again flashes that winning smile. “And it’s made me tough.”