Former BYSC volunteer, Emily Holzberg, finds her experience and compassion add value to career and client, Autism Speaks

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As parents, we try to instill values, like compassion, leadership, respect, and charity in our children. Volunteerism has traditionally played a role in helping to teach kids that giving to others who are less fortunate is a way to build character, connect diverse communities, and increase awareness of the world outside of their zip code.

But initially, many kids don’t often buy into the concept because, afterall, they’re just kids. How many 12 to 17-year-olds do you hear pleading with their parents to help them build character?  We want this because we see the bigger picture and understand the far-reaching effects that volunteering offers. In this series, we hope to inspire both parents and kids through conversations with Backyard Sports Cares volunteer alumni. Where are they now and how has working with BYSC and kids with limited access to sports affected their journey into adulthood?

LISTEN to our podcast with Emily Holzberg


Emily Holzberg was a Backyard Sports Cares volunteer during her time at Mamaroneck High School. She and two of her friends, Sydney Farrell and Paulina Paras, became inspired by the work they were doing with special needs kids and decided to start a Backyard Sports club at their high school. In doing so, the girls were able to recruit other students and offer their volunteer services to elementary school children in Mamaroneck. Emily is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and currently works in advertising for BBDO in New York City where she lends special needs expertise to her client, Autism Speaks. This is her story.

BYSC:  Tell us about your involvement with BYSC as a volunteer peer mentor?

emily holzberg with special needs childEmily: I started working with Backyard Sports soon after I started Mamaroneck High School. Coach Vin, aka Mr. Vinotti, was a teacher at our school and he told us about the program. I got involved with a few girls in my grade, and we started volunteering at the Sunday sessions for special needs athletes at SUNY Purchase.

I think the biggest part of my work with Backyard Sports was starting a club with two other girls, Paulina and Sydney. We created our own Friday sessions for kids with disabilities in our own district at a local elementary school. We were really able to create our own community and even our own sessions with our local peers and kids in school. When I left Mamaroneck High School, we had more than 200 volunteers in our Facebook group. It was a really awesome experience.

BYSC:  Is the club still active now that you have gone?

Emily: Yes, it’s still is going on. I know they volunteer a lot at the BYSC Plus program on Sundays. I think that’s the biggest effort they do now. They send a bunch of volunteers to the Sunday session knowing that has also grown a lot in terms of participants.

BYSC: Do you think the experience and the leadership role that you took planted seeds that have impacted your decisions as a young adult?

emily holzberg graduates
Emily after her graduation ceremony from the University of Wisconsin

Emily: I always say the biggest thing that BYSC taught me was when you’re really passionate about something, you can do anything with it and you can use that enthusiasm and drive and excitement to turn it into whatever you’d like to. For us, that was developing the club at school and really changing the culture and community at our school. The drive that the club instilled in me and the people we got to work with helped me channel that into my studies at school.

I also took a number of college classes in rehabilitation, psychology, and education, which shaped my volunteer experiences there. I volunteered at a bunch of schools and a home for adults facing a range of disabilities. And now, even at my work at BBDO, I’m actually working on the Autism Speaks account, one of our pro bono clients. That work has stayed with me and has always been the favorite part of whatever I’m doing. So it’s been really cool to keep that tie and thread throughout my life.

BYSC: So are you enjoying life as an adult now and living on your own? 

Emily: Yes, yes. I’m enjoying it. I actually just picked up the keys to my new apartment in NYC this weekend, and I’m moving in on Friday.