Ryemarkable Suzanne Clary

Updated: Sep 6


Name: Suzanne Clary

Family info: My husband and I moved to Rye 30 years ago and our two children grew up here. We still remember buying things at mom and pop shops like JP Cox Clothing store where OKO is today. Our first meal while house hunting was at the Rye Grill and Bar before its makeover.


Title & Volunteer Organization: President of the Board of Trustees of the Jay Heritage Center (2007-present)


Before working on this, what did you do?

I helped raise money for the Legal Aid Society of New York, specifically their Early Intervention Program for Children, which provided services to the underserved, homeless, and foster children with delayed development in speech, hearing, or vision. Education and inclusion have always been important to me.


Why did you choose The Jay Heritage Center?


Friends reached out to me because of my experience in fundraising for our children’s school, the local hospital, and other non-profits. I’m so glad they did. How often do you get to be part of shaping the trajectory of a National Historic Landmark site from the ground up!


How long have you worked there?


I have been volunteering at the Jay Heritage Center since 1999. I remember how overgrown the park used to be but also how dedicated its volunteers and supporters were (and continue to be to this day). Their can-do spirit was contagious.


What is the story of the Jay Heritage Center? What should the community know that we don’t already know?


Our story is about transforming the 23-acre Jay Estate into an educational campus accessible to everyone. We host the kind of innovative speakers and premiere programs about American history, social justice, architecture and environmental Stewardship that you might find at an institution like the New York Historical Society, New York Public Library, or Central Park Conservancy - except we’re in your backyard! We love families and hope to inspire the kids who come to our park to dream of being our nation’s future historians, civic leaders, and park stewards.


How would you describe your work? Community building and stewardship.


You have a soiree coming up in September! Tell us about it!


We’re celebrating a landmark 30th Anniversary with cocktails in the newly reimagined gardens and dinner and dancing to a live band behind the 1838 Jay Mansion. We’re auctioning off a green electric MOKE and one of a kind experiences, like private parties on the veranda, that will in turn fund more collaborations with some of our partners, like the Blue Skies Youth Program and the Caritas food pantry in Port Chester.


What have you learned in the process of working here?


Community partnerships are the key to any successful non-profit. Seek out like-minded people who share a passion for public service.


What do you love most about what you do?


I often joke that I’m in graduate school without the debt - I’ve learned from mentors in very diverse disciplines: archaeologists, authors, historians, aerial environmental photographers, social justice advocates, middle-school teachers, cemetery conservators, experts in biodiversity, and geothermal system engineers. Getting advice from the late E.O. Wilson about how to deal with invasive species was beyond wonderful. My horizons have expanded greatly thanks to all of them.


What is the biggest challenge you face? How do you overcome that challenge?


Funding is always a challenge. Not everyone understands how a non-profit functions. People assume that public parks and historic sites automatically receive millions of dollars from taxes or private donors when in reality many (like us) start the calendar year with zero funding. We are a 501 ( c ) 3 chartered by New York State’s Board of Education, but we receive no annual funding from the City of Rye, Westchester County or New York State. We rely on fundraisers, grants, corporate philanthropy, and amazing volunteers to take care of a park and gardens that are visited by over 35,000 people each year!


What is something that has surprised you?


The impact of volunteering. In addition to helping others, it is a fantastic way to set an example for your own children and teach them the importance of teamwork, listening, and the democratic process.


What is your best tip for others looking to give back to the community? Or your best tip for moms? Is there a philosophy you live by?


Don’t shy from stepping forward to take on projects outside your experience. You just might learn something in the process or meet someone who will teach you.


What are some alternative careers you would have liked to have?


Archaeologist, historic preservationist, or biologist. Some of the things I get to do regularly at JHC have facets of those professions attached to them.


Other fun facts about you? Favorite show is obviously Parks and Rec! Totally identify with Leslie Knope. I also love the water and fishing is an addiction. Ask me for tips on catching mutton snapper.


What do you think is important for other moms to know?


Your family will not resent you for volunteering your time when they see the end product and the part they played in it - mine have always been my greatest cheerleaders and sounding boards. I couldn’t do what I do without them.




 

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