“There’s no better way of letting people know about what you’re doing than by helping their kids. If I was to do something they’d be like, ‘Mom! Dad! Look what they gave me!’ And that would make for a better relationship with the community,” said Russo. “What I’m looking for is a good relationship with our community, so they could come forward and we could help them help themselves. It’s a very simple thing, but it works.”
He pointed out that everyone benefits from community service, even the individuals who are trying to give back.
"If you make the community better and you're part of it, doesn't it make you better? By helping the community you're indirectly helping yourself,” he said.
Russo has a grand vision of giving a book per week to each child in the local pre-K classes, but that requires a lot of money. In the long run, he would like to set up a book program, but meanwhile he is making arrangements to hold a book fair at Barnes & Noble, though a date is yet to be set.
“One way or another, I’m going to have the book fair. I don’t give up that easily,” he said.
He also hopes Maspeth Kiwanis will be able to continue supporting the youth chapters of Kiwanis clubs in local schools: K kids (elementary school), Builders Club (junior high school), Key Club (high school), and Circle K (college). These clubs teach children the importance of community stewardship.
"If you have a place where there is direction, you have good leadership and that's why we feel that K Kids and all these other clubs make for a good leader,” said Russo. “A good leader is not the one who tells everybody what to do. It's the one who takes good ideas and runs with it.”
But again, the issue is coming up with money to support these youth initiatives. Maspeth Kiwanis already has a 501(C)3 for its scholarship program, but it is considering getting another for the club’s youth programs. That way, donors will have an incentive to donate because they can write off their donations.
Russo admitted that not all the club members are ready to jump on board with his ideas, but they’re willing to look into getting the 501(C)3 and discussing it. He praised the members of his group for their honesty and dedication.
"I'm lucky to have a group of people that are understanding and that see the benefit of giving to certain bases. It's not the same in maybe other organizations where they're worried more about the money than they're worried about the community,” said Russo. “My group worries more about the community. We'll sit there and we'll discuss it. If they feel like it's too much money, they’ll tell me.”
Most club presidents serve a one-year term, but they can serve an extra year if they feel they have unfinished projects or more work that needs to be done.
Asked if he thinks one year will be enough to get the youth programs off the ground, Russo responded, "If I keep finding ways to raise money for the kids then I could accomplish it. For me to do it on one year may be difficult, but I'm going to try. If you don't reach for the stars, you'll never earn anything."