In January, Seth M. Mandelbaum became the chairman of the board of directors of the Westchester Parks Foundation (WPF), a nonprofit dedicated to promoting and supporting Westchester County’s parks. Mandelbaum is a managing partner with the White Plains law firm McCullough, Goldberger & Staudt LLP and within Westchester he is among the most proactive attorneys in professional and nonprofit volunteer leadership.
Mandelbaum is also a member of the board of directors of the Westchester County Association (WCA), where he serves on its Real Estate Task Force and is co-chairman of its State Environmental Quality Review Act Subcommittee. He is also on the board of directors of the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center and was formerly co-chairman of the Westchester County Bar Association’s Environmental Law Committee.
In this edition of Suite Talk, Business Journal Senior Enterprise Editor Phil Hall speaks with Mandelbaum about his volunteer outreach.
What was the route to this leadership role?
“I’ve been on the board since 2011 and had been involved with the organization back when it was Friends of Westchester Parks, which was rebranded five years ago as the Westchester Parks Foundation to make it a little clearer that we were not part of the Westchester County government — the original logo looked a lot like the one for the Westchester County Parks Department, whom we support.
“In 2015, I became vice chair and supported Joanne Fernandez of Entergy, who became chair. After five years, she decided to step down and I was asked if I would consider becoming chair, which I accepted.”
Is it safe to assume that you’ve had a lifetime love of both Westchester and its parks?
“I’ve lived in Westchester 20 years. My wife and I met at Pace Law School in White Plains. We moved to Queens, but later moved back up to Westchester. I used to ride my bike to Kensico Dam. When our children were very young, we used to take them to Saxon Woods Park. The county parks have always been part of why we love living here so much.”
Saxon Woods Park is across the street from your law firm’s office. Did you ever think that someday you would be working in that location?
“I used to point out this building and say, ‘I’m going to work in that building someday.’ I had no idea what I would be doing in there — except that it was the closest office building to our house.”
What does the WPF’s work involve?
“The WPF does many things, some of which are programmatic like Winter Wonderland and Pitch in for Parks, which take place around Earth Day. That is the largest one-day volunteer program we run.
“But I think my favorite program that we run is Camp Morty, a summer camp up in North Salem at Mountain Lakes Park, which provides one-week, sleep-away experiences for kids that are in the social services system. It gives the kids an opportunity to get out in the woods. A lot of them don’t know how to swim or have never been on a lake. I make sure I go up every summer and it is really an incredible thing to see. A lot of the young children go on to become counselors and counselors-in-training.”
How are you involved at the WCA?
“I recently had my first board meeting. I had been involved in some real estate and smart growth issues on its committees. It is a nice opportunity to use my knowledge of land use and zoning, which is my day job.”
There is also your work on the board with the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center. What brought you to that board of directors?
“It is near and dear to my heart as a grandchild of Holocaust survivors. I feel it is more important now than ever. There are a lot of symbols of hate that students in middle schools and high schools, and they may not understand what they are scrawling on the bathroom walls mean.
“We run teacher training institutes and trips every other year to Poland and Germany. We also run a speaker’s bureau for survivors and the second and third generation where they are trained to speak to schoolchildren and adults about their experiences. That is powerful.”
What percentage of your time is devoted to volunteerism?
“More and more!”