Joseph O’Campo-Petras of Ardsley received the Going Green Award for his volunteer work with the Westchester Parks Foundation’s Green Squad. He was honored at the Volunteer New York! 2021 Volunteer Spirit Awards virtual breakfast on April 9.
Petras, who is autistic, participates in Choices, a program for young adults run by The Arc Westchester, which supports children, teens, and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The agency participates in the Westchester Parks Foundation’s volunteer program.
According to Volunteer New York, their Going Green Award is based on three criteria: activity, initiative, and impact. The award “honors volunteers who work to protect and beautify our environment and natural surroundings, advocate for the preservation of our planet, and strive to instill these values for our community.”
Erin Cordiner, director of volunteer programs at the Westchester Parks Foundation, nominated Petras, 24, for the award.
“Joseph is the infectious, positive individual you didn’t know your project was missing, but can’t go without,” she told the Enterprise in an email. “Watching Joseph interact with other volunteers is extraordinary, and always leaves me speechless. His enthusiasm and positivity exudes to all other volunteers, influencing them to jump in, with his can-do attitude, improving the experience for everyone.
“His enthusiasm and spirit even seep into our staff’s mindset,” she continued, “reminding us why we’re here and inspiring us to mirror this same energy. Joseph represents the core of our organization’s mission.”
Petras is involved in a range of volunteer work. For County Harvest, his group helps deliver rescued food from supermarkets to food pantries. For Let’s Play It Forward, he and his group help pick up donated sports gear from a Somers location once a week and bring it to those in need. He also volunteers at the Community Center of Northern Westchester, taking donated sheets and blankets to local animal shelters. He’s removed golf balls from the greens during the preseason at Dunwoodie Golf Course in Yonkers, and helped finish a project at Mohansic Golf Course in Yorktown Heights, painting the course’s golf range dividers.
He loves his park cleanup chores most, though. As part of a trio from the approximately 25-member Green Squad, Petras helps beautify public spaces at Tibbetts Brook Park in Yonkers.
According to his The Arc Westchester supervisor, Rickey Michaels, Petras keeps fellow volunteers organized and supplied with gloves, garbage bags, and other equipment. During the weekly maintenance of the 161-acre park, from late spring through the fall, he assists with plantings, as well as the removal of invasive species from the pond.
The Westchester Parks Foundation estimates that Petras and his Green Squad co-workers spent nearly 1,150 hours tending the park and picked up nearly 1,200 pounds of trash last year. Petras collects more trash than anyone.
“He is on a mission when he arrives at the park to have the most weight in his garbage bag by day’s end. That is always his goal,” The Arc Westchester community development officer Teresa Lombardi recounted. “Joseph makes sure to keep everyone focused on the task at hand. He challenges the others to try to beat the amount he picks up. This keeps everyone engaged and focused on picking up as much litter as possible, because they all want to participate in his challenge.”
One park isn’t enough, though. Petras has asked to add another to his schedule, so starting on April 27, he will be volunteering at the Edith G. Read Wildlife Sanctuary in Rye as well.
Petras graduated from Ardsley High School in 2017 and lives in the village with his father, Benjamin Petras, an essential worker. He joined The Arc Westchester in September 2017. In his spare time, the avid volunteer enjoys working out by running, jumping rope, and kickboxing. “He’s very much into fitness, learning about nutrition, staying healthy, and being outside,” Lombardi commented.
In his videotaped speech for the awards ceremony, Petras said, “When I go to my sites it makes me feel happy. I feel so proud of myself when I see all the work I have done. I like to see the people I volunteer with working hard with me.”
He noted that the Read Wildlife Sanctuary, which is on Long Island Sound and abuts the landmarked Rye Playland, is his favorite site to volunteer because “everyone can enjoy the clean beach and park. I also love to see the rides and the beach.”
Petrus concluded his speech by thanking his The Arc Westchester team, saying, “They always make me feel special by telling me I am doing a good job.”