BY REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Niskayuna High School junior Noah Chaskin has been part of different community service projects for as long as he can remember. He’s executive vice president of his youth group at Congregation Gates of Heaven and volunteers at the Schenectady JCC, among other contributions.
But it wasn’t until his sophomore year of high school when Chaskin became truly enthusiastic about helping others in the community.
“I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t something I could get passionate about,” he said of past endeavors.
That changed after he attended the Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership seminar at RPI during 10th grade.
As an ambassador to the statewide conference that year, which focused on a combination of leadership skills and community service, he internalized the idea that small contributions to one’s community can make a significant impact.
Not long after the conference ended, Chaskin began tutoring Niskayuna elementary school students in math for free. He started by helping a student whose parents had been looking for a tutor, but couldn’t afford the fees that most charged.
The two worked together over the summer, drilling concepts that had eluded the girl during fourth grade. Now she’s in fifth grade, and Chaskin said he’s proud every time he finds out she’s succeeded at one of her goals.
“Her mom texted me after the first test,” he said. His first student had earned an A+. “That brought a smile to my face,” he said.
Through word of mouth between neighbors and friends, Chaskin has since taken on two more elementary school students. One needs help catching up in math, and the other enjoys taking on more challenging work than he can get in class.
“I’ll help him go ahead until he catches up to me,” Chaskin said with a laugh.
He hopes to log at least 100 hours serving his friends and neighbors in Niskayuna by the end of the school year. It won’t be easy, especially with a long list of extracurriculars, including rowing and garage club, where students work together to build a motorcycle each year. But he feels it’s important enough to be a priority, so he always makes time to tutor kids.
The conference at RPI wasn’t Chaskin’s only experience with leadership development seminars. He also recently attended one that focused on creating change through the political process, and taught the high schoolers who attended how to lobby political figures on a variety of issues.
Chaskin said when it comes to helping others, he finds lobbying less rewarding than helping with a math problem or participating in a youth group.
“With lobbying, you don’t really see your results,” he said.
The political process interests him, but working with kids in his hometown truly makes him happy.
“It doesn’t really have to be a big thing,” he said. “You’ll see the impact more on a small scale. It’s like, ‘I did something.’ ”
Chaskin, son of Regina Chaskin and Adam Chaskin of Hillside Avenue, wants to apply his passion for creating positive change in his career, as well, and plans to do so by following in the footsteps of several role models.
Both of his grandfathers were in the military, one in the Air Force and the other in the Navy. His uncle was a Marine.
Chaskin said as he approached high school age, he started to realize he wanted to be a part of that particular legacy.
“It’s always been in my family,” he said. “I realized serving my country was what I really wanted to do.”
He hopes to study nuclear or chemical engineering at the Naval Academy during his college years. He said the ideal career path would be to serve in the military until retirement, then return to the heart of his community service interests and become a professor.
“I like teaching,” he said. “As a professor you have a true impact.”
No matter where he goes next, Chaskin hopes the elementary school students he tutors will remember he’s always, at least figuratively, there for them.
Choosing classes and navigating block scheduling in high school can be tough, for example.
Chaskin has two brothers: Abraham Traore, who’s 16 years older than he is, and Grant Chaskin, who’s just two years Noah’s senior. When he left middle school, Noah remembers leaning on Grant for advice and confidence.
When his current students grow up and have to navigate high school, he hopes to do the same for them.
“It’s a while down the road for them, but I hope they’ll email me,” he said.