On Wednesday night, three local residents received awards from the City of Rye’s Human Rights Commission. Today meet 2023 Rye Youth Human Rights Award winner and Rye High School senior Paulina Tepan. Read our other coverage on current and past award winners and the Human Rights Commission.
Your Name: Paulina Tepan
Your Role: President of Be the Change Club at Rye High School, Founder of Sw33t Brand Youth Baking Lessons, Co-President of Rye Youth Council’s Student Outreach Committee
MyRye.com: Describe yourself in one word:
Where do you live in Rye or Rye Neck?
Tepan: Purdy Avenue, Rye
Tell us about the activity that led to the award.
Tepan: Be the Change is a club at Rye High School with the mission of making the school a more welcoming environment. Throughout the years, I’ve led the club through projects of distributing school supplies to students as a “welcome back,” creating posters with positive messages to hang around the school, and bake sales to raise money for projects, and pumpkin painting days in the fall to connect students with each other. Our school principal, Mrs. Short, founded this club several years ago, so it holds a special place in her heart.
As the Founder and Instructor of Sw33t Brand Youth Baking Lessons, I’ve provided baking classes to over 30 children, transforming this art into lessons on enhancing youth’s executive function skills. A transformation that has resonated with me the most has been with a child I’ve been teaching for a year and a half now, working patiently on using baking to strengthen his listening and attention skills, despite his challenges with autism.
The Rye Youth Council’s (RYC) Student Outreach Committee works on tackling local challenges that affect youth, including our most recent project where we set up a clothing drive at RHS to support children-in-need at Mt. Vernon High School. I, along with Co-President Juliette Hamlen, restructured the club to directly provide support youth in our community, as the group previously provided youth insight to the RYC organization.
Why did you get started in this area–what or who prompted you to become involved?
Tepan: Seeking to further connect with Rye High School despite the pandemic, I discovered Be the Change club as I read through the list of available clubs. The club’s mission resonated with me, and when I joined, I made it my goal to enhance its impact around our school.
I began Sw33t Brand Youth Baking Lessons with my passion for baking, and looking to connect more with my community by helping children. After a baking lesson with one child, I found potential in offering these lessons to children, as a fun activity could translate into valuable life skills. A family friend and former Rye citizen, Melissa Yanis, supported my vision and motivated me to promote this program online and on Rye Moms, expanding my presence.
My involvement in the Rye Youth Council’s (RYC) Student Outreach Committee began in ninth grade as I discovered the group’s mission of representing Rye youth which aligned with my values and goals as I entered high school.
Who nominated you for the award?
Tepan: My high school principal, Mrs. Short, nominated me for this award. I learned about this nomination in mid-December, after telling Mrs. Short was I accepted into [my] first-choice college, the University of Pennsylvania, and she suppled my news with greater news about her nomination for this award.
How did you hear you won the award?
Tepan: Last week while I was playing volleyball in gym class, Mrs. Short and my guidance counselor, Mr. Renner, entered the gymnasium and surprised me as they asked me to read a paper notifying me that I won the Rye Youth Human Rights Award. It was meaningful to me that my principal and guidance counselor chose to surprise me in person as I am close with them and am always in contact with them.
Tepan: I’ll continue furthering the mission of these efforts during my time here at Rye, and am hoping that the younger members will keep guiding the groups toward positive change. For both the Student Outreach Committee and Be the Change club, we’re always looking for more members. For the youth baking lessons, I have not yet planned out what will happen as I head to college this Fall 2024, but I would love to have other local high school students continue to run this program if interested.
Outside this work, what are three of your favorite things to do in and around Rye?
- Baking and sharing with friends and family: It is always heartwarming when I spend two hours baking a dessert that gives me comfort and then getting to surprise my family with a freshly baked dessert or bringing my friends a few cookies to enjoy during lunch.
- Sunday morning walks around Rye town with my dog: I love going on peaceful Sunday morning walks with my dog, Blu, to town as these walks give me time to reflect on my week and kickstart the new week.
- I love going on bagel and coffee runs with my friends during our lunch breaks from school.