Each year, an amazing group of more than 1,300 people from across New York and around the world volunteer to help make Open House New York Weekend possible. They all share a love of New York City, and make up a vibrant mix of new and returning volunteers.

This week, meet Donna Lennon, a first time Open House New York volunteer, and John Kelly, one of our District Coordinators!

 

THE FIRST TIME VOLUNTEER

All volunteers play a pivotal role at participating sites around the city. Volunteers are assigned to one site during OHNY Weekend, typically for a four hour shift, and are tasked with welcoming visitors, assisting with check-in, managing lines, and representing Open House New York. 

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Name: Donna Lennon
Occupation: Elementary School Teacher
Neighborhood: Harlem

Favorite spot in New York City?
Union Square. It’s such an interesting mix of entertainment, shopping, and political expression. I can go to the movies, get a great pair of shoes, and protest police brutality all in one spot.

Why are you volunteering for OHNY Weekend?
I registered because in both my professional and personal life, I am often asked for directions and information about New York. Maybe it’s the glasses, but for some reason random strangers often politely excuse themselves and ask me for directions, train schedules, and information about New York landmarks This is a common occurrence in my life and I’ve learned to embrace it. There are times when I’m not in a good mood and simply say “sorry, I’m not from here.” I’ve lived in New York–Queens and Harlem–for twenty years now and I have been an unofficial New York tour guide since my first year here. Lately, I’ve asked those same lost strangers why, out of all the people on the platform, or in the street or lobby, they chose to ask me. Their response is mostly “you seemed kind” or “you looked like a nice person.” Even with shades on my face and earbuds in my ears, I don’t know how they inferred that I was nice. But this led me to believe that I am a perfect match as an OHNY volunteer. I am most excited about truly representing the city I love by answering a lot of questions.

If you were a New York City landmark, what would you be?
The George Washington Bridge! Before my Dad passed away, I made frequent road trips to my hometown of Rochester, New York. This trip allowed me to listen to my favorite music (Usher), engage in one-way conversations with my favorite podcasters (Elon James White, Crissle & Kid Fury and Baratunde Thurston), and simply relax. That moment when you’re coming off Interstate 80 onto 95 and then you see the GW Bridge with the city in the background, it is simply breathtaking. It’s like a welcome home hug. It’s like the front door of your home after a long day. It’s just beautiful.

Fun fact?
I collect turtle figurines and wood carvings from all over the world! I have fourteen figurines in my collection from places like Egypt, Spain, Mexico, and Jamaica. This collection all started with the purchase of my pet turtle, Lucy. I’ve had her since 2004. She was a perfect classroom pet that now lives in a 10-gallon tank in my living room.

 

THE DISTRICT COORDINATOR

District Coordinators are a special team of individuals who volunteer their entire weekend to make sure everything runs smoothly across the city. They are assigned specific neighborhoods and help manage all volunteers and sites in the area.

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Name: John Kelly
Occupation: Director of digital product development at American Express
Neighborhood: Court Square, Long Island City with fiancée (and OHNY volunteer) Pedro

Favorite spot in New York City?
Without a doubt Eero Saarinen’s TWA Flight Center at JFK. I grew up in the DC area and was always so inspired traveling in and out of Dulles, another one of his master works. I thought I would never get the opportunity to see TWA up close, but I was so thrilled to have the chance to visit when it opened for OHNY Weekend in the past.Best Open House New York memory?
I took off an afternoon from work four years ago to go on a members tour of the NYC Department of Transportation’s command center in Long Island City. One of my niche interests is around the invisible systems and infrastructure upon which urban life is able to thrive – and this was an amazing experience to see all of the science and technology that goes into traffic optimization. It was another OHNY experience of getting the chance to go behind the scenes of something that I was so interested in, but never thought I would have the chance to experience.

Why are you volunteering for OHNY Weekend?
I first became aware of OHNY as a college student at St. John’s University, and had many great weekends as a participant. I observed so many people passionate about different aspects of the city, and knew that I wanted to get more involved. My first year as a volunteer was in 2009 when I was assigned to the Hindu Temple Society of North America in Flushing, and immediately fell even more in love with the organization.

If you were a New York City landmark, what would you be?
This is a stretch, but I’d be the subway system. For as much shade as gets thrown at it, it is remarkable for its scale, reach, resiliency, and for being the backbone of the the country’s largest economy.

Fun fact?
I have five younger siblings!

What is your favorite part about being a District Coordinator for OHNY Weekend?
Riding around on my bike, getting to know all of the volunteers, site sponsors, and gaining an even deeper appreciation for my neighborhood and my city.

 

There’s still time to join the team of more than 1,000 volunteers who help make Open House New York Weekend one of New York’s most exciting events! Visit our volunteer page to learn more about volunteering and click here to sign up to volunteer for the 2016 OHNY Weekend on Saturday and Sunday, October 15 and 16!