Podcast: Ava DeSantis, 16 and trying to change the world


Good morning, my name is Melissa Hale-Spencer, the editor, the Altamont Enterprise and we have here today with us Ava DeSantis who is 16 years old and is almost single handedly I think putting together the first ever five k for Earth Day on the rail trail. So welcome Ava. Thank you. Tell us just a little about how you got to the point where you're doing this.

00:34                             For Awhile. I've been wanting to start a charity venture and about a year ago I found the Mohawk Hudson land conservancy and their very local, they are on the same street as I am and they do a lot of good work and so I met with them and I talked to them about doing a venture where I would face paint at our local farmer's market and raise money for them. Our farmer's market. Yeah. And so I contacted some people there am. I got a booth there and I did it for the summer and I raised over $600 and it was really successful. So I'm going to interrupt here. Flashes a canvas painting. Are you an art person or you? Sometimes I'm pretty into art. Yeah. She's the person who come and sit down and tell you what they want on their face or do you think. So the kids are pretty creative.

01:31                            They usually tell me what they want, like what are some of the things you painted on? Usually classic things like butterflies, rainbows and stuff like that. But I've done spider-man and wolves and dogs and just anything the kids can come up with a little, sit down at a chair and say, make me spider-man and you will do this, have to look at their face and see how to do that basically. Yes. And do you like, as you're doing this, do you chat with the person or is it like concentration? Uh, I usually chat with them. The kids are really cute and really excited and so it's a lot of fun. So I interrupted you. So after you did this $600, is that what you said? I did it every Saturday in the summer. How much face? Uh, it was all by donations because I wanted to sort of mix community outreach with also fundraising.

02:27                                         So I didn't want to, you know, charge people specific amounts of money. I wanted all the kids to be able to get their faces painted, but that's at least 600 cases. I would be quite a few. Yes. Um, a lot of people donated more or less, but it was, it was great to see people coming in and getting involved and then wanting to see if we're going to be there the next week. And I got a few of my friends involved. One of my classmates at Doane Stewart, um, I had her help me for a couple of times and then my old school mate from middle school helped me a few of the times as well. And so it was a good experience and I loved working with the conservancy. So this year I went to a human rights symposium at the Teacher's Union and they, they hosted every year and they're really interesting speakers and you get to have other teenagers who are interested in human rights and outreach and have them all come together and learn about different current events that are going on.

03:36                                         And we heard from really, really cool speakers. One was a holocaust survivor and um, one was a woman talking about sexual assault on college campuses. And so just a variety of topics that we were interested in. The introduction will lead you to be interested in human rights at age 16. Uh, um, well, my parents have instilled in me, you know, interest in the world around me and how it, how it's working and I've always been interested in history and so, and I've always had great history teachers. So I think learning about the past and, and observing the world around me has gotten me to notice what I think is wrong about what I see and how I can change that. And in the past few years I've gotten more realization of how much change I can do without, you know, sitting and just thinking, this is really bad, you know, what I can actually do about it.

04:41                                         So, um, well my mom is a, my mom is a big influence for me in that department because she always has instilled in me to value my worth and my rights specifically as a woman. But as a person and how I can instill change and how I can get involved in things I'm interested in, and she definitely helped kick-start, um, my love for art, which helped me with the face painting venture, um, and she helped me get into a show where art was being sold for to raise money for planned parenthood. And so I got to sell a piece of art in that as well. So I definitely got a lot of inspiration from her and my dad has helped me a lot throughout the way as well. Just talk. I always talked to my parents about current events and political situations that I'm learning about and observing. And um, and do politics agree

05:59                                         with your parents? Do you have the same kind of philosophy on life? I'm remembering my own children in their teenage years and discovering their, their own politics or are you kind of simpatico is you

06:12                                         relatively. Yes. I have a lot of political disagreements with my father about things that I think he has the wrong tape, take the same information and have the wrong interpretation of it or a different interpretation than me. But I think we all have similar basic principles and my mom agrees with me on most things, but a lot of things I think we give different weights to different issues, um, you know, and so I think being a young person and social media, I'm learning a lot more about gender issues and um, and issues about gender identity and sexuality than they have learned about, um, because it just wasn't as much as common knowledge as it is now. Um, but I think environmentally we all share similar beliefs and convictions.

07:10                                         So this brings us back to your narrative, which I took you off. It's just wonderful to hear a succinct description of how your parents have helped shape who you are, but you were saying you went to this human rights seminar forum and that's where I'm going to put you back on the road too.

07:29                                         Um, I met at the end of the symposium. We split up into groups about issues we most passionate about so that we could come up with an idea for a project to make change in that area. Um, and even after all the things that we had amazing things we had learned at symposium, that was by far my favorite part, um, it was hard to pick what field because there were so many great things like um, racial issues, gender issues, but I eventually landed on the environment and so I was with a group of probably 10 other girls. I'm not that, it was all girls, just coincidentally in 10 other girls who were also really interested in helping save the environment. And so we got to talking about a project that would help save the environment and they've been helping me the completely throughout the way I'm doing outreach advertising. Um, for the event that we came up with which was the run.

08:28                                         So how did you land on the run is that there are.

08:34                                         Well, we wanted something we could all work together on and we wanted something that we could involve the community in as well. Not just ask for money but provide an experience. And we wanted something that would raise money for charities that we were interested in. And we wanted it to be outside because we're protecting the environment, not just because of global warming, which I think for me is the main reason we have to stop and think and look at our actions because it's not gonna work for very much longer and it's not working already in a lot of areas, but because the environment is something that we should appreciate and so I wanted and we all wanted to give ourselves and the community an opportunity to work, to help protect the environment while being a Mitzvah and realizing that we can't let this go chosen athletic event.

09:39                                         Some of us are runners. I'm not a runner. I was a swimmer for nine years and I think that athletics just bring people together and in a way that a lot of other things don't. Um, in my lifetime 5k races have become real community events. That's a new phenomenon and I think it's wonderful. So tell us about the race itself, both how you're organizing for and what the day will be like if everything comes together. Well, we're organizing for it by reaching out to a lot of local and larger companies as well to get donations to logistical things to make the run happen. So we need water, we need, I'm baked goods or we want the good fruit. Um, we want those people to be able to have that when they're there, but a lot are, you probably don't want to have. We have big things and that paper cups.

10:39                                         So the Boston Marathon, I went to college at Wellesley and it was the halfway point by Misery Hill road there and we'd hand out, you know, in little paper cups, water and we have a big things of water and then we're going to have a smaller paper cups that we can pour them into as well. So I reached out to Hannaford and shop and I talked to some people there and I got donations from them. So they are sponsoring the event and I also got donations from a local tee shirt company that I was able to have them donate 25 shirts for the first 25 people that register for the run so that they can get a free tee shirt as well. Um, designed something to put on the teachers. Yes. It's just going to be the logo for the company and white and then it's going to be a yellow tee shirt with environmental awareness, [inaudible] [inaudible].

11:37                                         Um, and then other than that we worked with the county, um, to get, to be able to use the rail trail and you know, there are legal issues with Iran. Um, and we all had to come together and work together as well to come up with a poster that we liked and to come up with, you know, when we wanted to start and you know, what kind of experience we wanted it to be. Um, I also work with Leah at um, well cuts in land conservancy. She's been extremely helpful both in my face painting venture and in this and she's carried half the burden, at least I'm making sure all the logistical things work and making sure I know that what is, what has to be done to make it work because I've never done a run before. I'm surprised to see 16 year old, a lot of people are, but I've gotten used to that and I think that del Mar is a pretty nice community and so surprise is usually followed by excitement instead of doubt.

13:00                                         Um, and so the community has been really supportive in helping me be able to do this because I don't have the financial means as a 16 year old to do it on my own without, you know, local companies pitching in, um, and asked for the run the experience of the run itself. I want it to be a community experience where people show up and you know, they're involved, they're stretching, they're getting ready for the run. You'd show up at eight to sign in and if and register if you didn't do so already, although I would recommend registering early because you can get the tee shirt, um, and you'd show up then you're stretching and you can talk to the other people that come and it could be a really a huge range of people. And I think I talked about this, um, with the conservancy specifically so they would know what I was aiming for, but I want it to not just be people like me and like my fellow students who are organizing it, that, you know, really rd, see where they want things to go with the environment. I want people who just came there to run and who might pick up some things about the environment as they go, you know, and talk to some other people that are completely different from them, different ages and different athletic abilities and different levels of political awareness. All to just be see that this is all something that we can do together and, and enjoy the environment.

14:35                                         So, um, how many people are you hoping to attract to this? Honestly, as many as we can, um, it's, we're keeping it pretty small scale with um, it's not going to be super efficient. There will be a timer, um, but it's not going to be super official with that, but we are hoping that we will bring out a pretty significant amount of it.

14:58                                         The community. Are there any fees that are earmarked to be spent on something for the conservancy or that

15:05                                         there is a $15 entry fee. All of the money will be going into conservancy and I have not specifically told them what they should spend it on, but I've looked at their financial statements as I would any, any, uh, charity before I donated money, um, to make sure that it's not going to the wrong place. You know, there have been some, some issues with places like the Red Cross and things like that and they don't do that there. And so all of the money will be going to something that is a very good cause and they, you know, and they've shown that, you know, with the amount of money they receive from a pretty small community, they've already been able to serve over 5,000 acres of land in five counties. And so I think that's proof of the money's going to a good cause,

16:02                                         being well spent because we've had markings on the podcast is pretty impressive what they've done. Is there any idea at the conservancy to make this an annual event or is this just going to be even did this? That's enough.

16:18                                         I really don't know. Um, I would, I definitely am going to continue working with the conservancy. I already am scheduled to face span again this summer and I will have to see, um, it's a lot of legal work so I would have to work that out with the county. Um, but I will definitely, me working with the conservancy is, is a, is a forever thing. Um, I don't know if there will be an annual thing or not, but I would suggest that ever comes out for this year because this is such an important year with the environment and everything that's happening. I don't want to get specifically into politics, but with the current administration, there are worries about, um, and not just what the current administration really with every ruler on the face of the planet, there are issues that we're not taking this seriously enough. So I think right now is the time to start coming out for these days, these

17:19                                         events athletic event. What I'm hearing is in, in the mood of the protest marches, like drawing attention to the environment more than I would like it to be both, but I think more so that is what I can speak for. But I hope people come out with the other attitude as well. So tell us a little about the rest of your life. I'm particularly interested in your school. You're a student at don't students. And I remember way back when it was a merger of Kenwood, right? And St Agnus a Catholic school. But what, what is it now I know you've, um, now it's an interfaith school

18:04                                         and I, it's very accepting. I'm an atheist. Um, and so they don't, they are, it's a great school and I think that they and the teacher specifically have really given me the understanding of the world around me that it takes to want to make a change. Um, and so I think that it's a really, it's a really good school and I would, I would recommend anyone that wants to go there to tell him. I've been a student there since high school. I went to Parker school originally for all through eighth grade and then it ended and so we were looking for another school to go to and we found on stuart and it was great, but it was nothing that it wasn't as good. It didn't look as good as it has turned out to be. It's turned out to be, to be really more than I could have it

19:01                                         hope for. Great to feel that way about your school. So you're somebody who loves going to school and do you have particular subjects that you like or teachers that you like or things that you're pursuing other than your environmental passion? Well,

19:17                                         my favorite subject is definitely history. Um, and I've had nothing but great history teachers at my school. I had Miss Saigon and freshman year and then Mr Russell and sophomore year and now Mr Wheeten and um, and they've all been great and I really have loved learning about how the world, how our world today and the issues that face us came to be. And I also really enjoyed. Well, I, I would say my love for history really outstrips any of my other subjects, but I do take other classes, um, electives like economics and international studies and justice that I really enjoyed it.

20:02                                         Well. Do you announce that forthright? Is that something you came to yourself or is that something you were raised with?

20:15                                         My parents have never really talked about. Never really. None of my parents are religious. So, um, I think there's been a certain understanding that I was raised with that in our opinion there God does not exist, but there's no they never said outright and they never really forced any opinions on me. And I think learning science and learning history and um, that's just the opinion I've come to respect other people's religion and going to an interface school where a lot of people are religious I think has helped me, um, for my opinions in a way that's not overbearing or, or forceful so much as this is my belief. But I understand the reasoning for other beliefs as well. And I respect that other people make their own decisions as well. You become a target for people trying to convince you of the worth of their own religion that doesn't know.

21:23                                         So it's a very respectful school, respectful school. Um, none of the classes are taught in a religious manner. We do have religion classes where we learned about religions and what they believe, but we only teach science as fact. We don't teach religion as fact and none of my friends who are religious are in a manner that would try and convince me of their opinions. It's more of this is what I believe in, this is what you believe and I can respect that and you can respect this. Wonderful. When you look to your future, I can't imagine a path you might take. I definitely want to be a lawyer, but I have a particular interest in environmental law and I haven't completely settled on that, but I'm, I'm, I'm going to be taking environmental science and classes and figuring out how I liked that, but I think that I definitely want to get into that a little bit and be able to really do some hands on work to change the system that is allowing for these environmental problems to happen.

22:37                                         You're either very, very poor and hardworking, ticking the companies you're working for. One of the companies. What makes you be the former assure that you want to be a lawyer? Um, well, I do mock trial. Um, I'm the captain of my schools mock trial team and I've always loved doing it and it's really cool to be able to, you know, be the voice for people that can't necessarily just have their own voice without giving you, giving them that platform and it's really cool to be able to look at the facts and come up with the way that they can be presented to help your argument and your case, not to get super technical, but, and I've also, um, I wasn't sure exactly, um, where to focus. So I did an internship shadowing a judge, Judge Hartman at the Supreme Court and that was really interesting and that was the point where I was, I was sure that I wanted to be a lawyer because she does really great work and it's cool to see how the justice system is running and, and in our community.

23:52                                         How long did you shadow her and what, what did that consist of doing? You would sit in her courtroom and listened to the cases or even more than that. I will. I shadowed her last summer, um, once a week, all summer, sometimes twice a week, and I got to hear her deliberate about the cases, um, and try and, you know, her and her clerk come up with, you know, reasoning for both sides and try and understand what they'd heard. I got here, the lawyers present their arguments and then I got to hear her reactions later and I got to work on because this was of particular interest to me, although it wasn't a focus of the internship, I got to because I'm, I'm very passionate about gun control. I got to work on reviewing gun permit applications, um, for both, you know, basic permits and concealed carries. And so that was really interesting to be able to see. I'm in New York state specifically, which has one of the stricter gun control laws, um, to be able to see how that plays out and how people, what sort of hoops people have to jump through to get a gun. Um, and so doing all those things and then being some days I would go off and listen to other judges, um, cases and I met, I met a lot of attorneys and clerks and judges. It was just a really, really cool, really valuable experience.

25:23                                         I actually, sorry to interrupt, but I actually have done stewart to thank for that because a, she is a parent of a student at Doane Stewart and she had helped out with our mock trial team wants and that's how I got in contact with her. So I, I really do have to answer to thank for that. You so passionate about gun control. Where did that come from? Being for me, being a student, um, and seeing how an and I really value the education that I'm receiving and I appreciate that. Not everyone has the opportunity to get that education in this country where we do have the opportunity to get an education. Um, uh, not everyone has the opportunity to go to a small private school, but everyone has the opportunity to an education for that to be taken away in what's in the shootings that have happened also that people can own automatic weapons is, is absurd to me and I'm not going to get into the technicalities of why I think couldn't control is the answer to stopping those shootings and other forgotten since last summer. This predated the galvanize the nation two separate entities kind of ahead of the curve

26:44                                         with that.

26:44                                         Right? Well, I've seen other gun violence as well that I've seen. Um, but now I think I, before then, I think it was actually valuable that I wasn't as passionate about gun control when I had the internship. Um, I'm passionate about it now, but I looked at those applications with an open mind because I didn't have the strong feelings that I have about gun control now. So having that information that I had obtained with an open mind and now looking at it with these are the issues that I'm seeing and I think we need to fix them is more valuable. So I didn't have as strong of an opinion back then, but now I have that, that, that unbiased information and the opinion, I think that's the, that's the match

27:39                                         because you seem like a person that has very deep seated, deep-rooted passions as you are well aware, the legal system in our country depends on having both sides. Um, spoken about convincingly. Are you someone that thinks you'd be able to, you know, argue on either side of the case as part of A.

28:01                                         I think I could because I think I see the merit in everyone being able to have their voice. And I think looking at a case from the outside, we really can't see the merit in each side. It might. It's often presented as one being ludicrous and one being not. But having seen a number of cases played out in the courtroom, there is merit to both sides. And Luckily for me though, if I were to be an environmental lawyer, there are certain lines I would not cross and I wouldn't attempt to cross, you know, I would never work for what I see as, you know, the enemy of an oil company or touch. I wouldn't, I wouldn't cross that line. Um, career enhancing or not, I couldn't do that.

28:51                                         I am so sorry. But our time is ending. Or do you have any concluding thoughts that you'd like to share with our listeners about your work? About five k, anything that we haven't touched on that you think is really important?

29:05                                         Um, well, I want to thank you for having me and I also want to thank a Mohawk Hudson for being so supportive in this endeavor and helping me run this even though there are, I'm sure there are people more experienced they could have do something like this. Um, I want to encourage everyone to come out for the run because it really is going to be a great experience and I think it'll be great for the community and it's a great thing to show your supportive.

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