Gardiner Residents Elise Gold and Mathew Swerdloff founded the Maya Gold Foundation in the months following October 2015, when their daughter, Maya, took her own life. “We both had careers in education and human services,” Mathew explains, “and we both had been in leadership roles, so it was natural for us to form an organization that would serve the community.
“When we decided to form the Foundation, the real purpose was to offer support, programming, activities, and opportunities for teens who might be lost or struggling, or feeling challenged or alone.” The official mission statement of the Foundation is to empower youth to access their inner wisdom and realize their dreams.
Soon after forming the organization, with the help of family friends and those who loved Maya, a second, more personal mission made itself clear to Elise, Mathew, and the board members: “It was Maya’s dream to go to Nepal in her senior year of high school and work at an orphanage to reduce human sexual trafficking.”
“That was something that was really important to her, and she’d done a lot of research and planning for it. The whole Nepal program, which came about later, was designed by us. As Maya’s parents, we wanted to have her dream be realized in a way that’s not only nurturing and fulfilling for kids, but also helps reduce human sexual trafficking in Nepal.”
Hannah Goichman, previous President of the Youth Action Team, a branch of the Foundation exclusively composed of and managed by adolescents, says, “We worked with the Himalayan Children’s Charity, which, while not exactly an orphanage, takes in children who don’t have homes or who can’t live in their homes. We travelled into the foothills of the Himalayas and worked with a school there. We acknowledged that we were learning so much from the people we interacted with.”
Goichman, a friend of Maya’s, explains the spiritual significance the trip had for her. “Being in Nepal was definitely the closest I’ve ever felt to her. It made everything we did there so much more meaningful.”
Apart from the trip to Nepal, the Maya Gold Foundation is deeply involved in the New Paltz, Gardiner, and surrounding areas. Putting together events for teens, parents, and everyone, the Foundation opens up communication and fosters a strong, supportive, loving community.
Mathew notes that the Foundation organizes three core functions yearly, which vary in terms of content and modality. “The first one is a series of community programs, which we offer once in the fall and once in the spring. We’ve done everything from live theater, to a concert, to a movie screening, to poetry workshops. Most recently, we had a program over Zoom which was a workshop on mindfulness and stress reduction.” Mathew notes that these programs are always free to attend.
In addition to its programs, the Foundation invests in the community in the form of Thrive Grants. These small financial grants go to local organizations offering programs that help teens connect with each other and the community. The Foundation also bestows a biannual Community Service Award—a $500 gift to teens doing service work that aligns with the Foundation’s mission.
Current Youth Action Team President Hannah Spilhaus says, “I think the Foundation really helps with getting teens involved in the community, and getting people active in participating in their programs. It really creates awareness for things like mental illness, and gets people talking about it. The Foundation definitely makes people comfortable voicing what they’ve been through, and how they’ve dealt with it.”
Youth Action Team member Dylan Keessen asserts, “Everyone is really accepting. They all really understand the struggle that can be everyday teen life. Everyone’s also really, truly smart, and great at planning things. I feel like I’ve really connected with people through it, and it makes me feel confident that I’m actually benefitting society, even if it’s on a relatively small scale.”
For those interested in learning more about the Maya Gold Foundation, and how it accomplishes its mission, visit mayagoldfoundation.org, check out the social media presences on Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube, and keep your eyes on local news.
For the more adventurous and service-oriented: in August, the Foundation will be opening up applications for the 2021 Heart of Gold Trip to Nepal.
If you’re interested in joining a board or committee in service of the Foundation and its mission, there will be an Open House this September—for more information, email email@example.com.