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I am a Hudson Valley Parent: Beth Verblaauw

Community activism makes her MAD

Warwick mom and community activist, Beth Verblauuw, joins her Make a Difference (MAD) group of teens on a local clean up project. She emphasizes the importance of responsibility and "just doing what people should."

Hudson Valley Parent reached out to their Facebook audience in search of a local mother who was doing amazing things in her community. That's how they found Beth Verblauuw. One mom nominated her and the rest of the Facebook audience couldn't agree fast enough.

The Warwick-based mother of four - from a 19-year-old Syracuse University student to a 3 and a half year old "surprise" - works as a pre-school teacher and at her local Florida Public Library. But it's Verblaauw's creation of the ad hoc Make a Difference (MAD) group and its give-back activities for area teens that had social media buzzing.

Our youth is the future
MAD began eight and a half years ago, built on Verblaauw's thoughts about how narcissistic and individual-goal-driven our society has become.

"I was thinking about what a good thing it would be to trust our youth," she explains. "After all, they're going to be our future."

She began her program by looking for a number of community-minded projects she could do with her kids, their friends and others who wanted to join in. The ideas and impetus was then, and has stayed youth-driven. She kept the program running because of how rewarding all its participants found their work and because they wanted to keep it going.

"If you give kids responsibility and tell them they can make a difference, they will," she states.

Projects that the MAD group has undertaken include everything from helping the elderly with household chores to cleaning basements. They do yard work, cook meals and shop for and deliver "angel trees" during the holiday season. Through fundraising, they have raised nearly $17,000 for everything from gifts of gas money, to covering a family's doctor visits, to materials for building projects they have worked to complete.

READ MORE: 10 activities to encourage mindfulness

Stay grounded with hard work, responsibility and sometimes pizza
There are no certificates or awards handed out for the work the group does. Every once in a while Verblaauw provides pizza. New members can join just by having a desire to help and the willingness to work.

The website for the Warwick Reformed Church, MAD's sponsoring organization, lists some of the good deeds done by the MAD team including numerous donations to area institutions and families, the weeding of local community gardens, the cleaning up of parks and the creation of carnival games others could use for their own fundraising purposes. The church's pride is infectious.

"I explain to anyone who asks about joining that it's hard work, and everyone needs to show responsibility," Verblaauw explains. "They're a good group of kids. They enjoy helping others."

At any given time, the MAD group is made up of about 17 kids, ranging in age from sixth grade through high school seniors. Over time, Verblaauw adds, a total of 26 have been involved, including her three older kids, now age 19, 18 and 14. Most meetings take place at her home and in her kitchen where a lot of cooking is involved. In addition to the work they do, Verblaauw posts "fun facts" the kids come up with, which they've also shared in visits to the local Veterans' Home, Newburgh's Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization and other groups.

"They're a real mix," she adds. "This seems to keep them all grounded."

READ MORE: Top tips for parenting teens

A new world for her kids
Verblaauw says her own upbringing wasn't very trusting or good. She and her husband of 21 years, who owns a construction company in Orange County, made a fresh start when they moved north from New Jersey 19 years ago.  She wanted to build a world for her own kids she hadn't had.

"I'm huge on work ethic, on giving back," she adds. "And I really try to keep everything kid-based, limiting parental involvement. The older kids help by driving, as do I. After all, this is all about them, about trust, about real responsibility."

Beth Verblaauw quiets when asked what she gets from her MAD team and its longevity, or her own kids' achievements and downright goodness.

She's a doer. She stresses that the kids she works with are doers too.

"We don't over-advertise what we do," she concludes. "After all, the kids are just doing what people should do."

Paul Smart is a father who writes for a variety of publications in the Hudson Valley. He lives in Catskill.

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