Meet John Larrabee. John is a retired educator, environmentalist, master woodworker, self-proclaimed “beer snob,” and the recipient of AARP New Hampshire’s 2017 Andrus Award for Community Service, our most prestigious volunteer award that recognizes an individual 50 years or older who has made an impact on their community through volunteerism and inspiring
others. More than that, John Larrabee is the inter-generational example that the Granite State needs.
Born in 1946 to an engineer father and a stay-at-home mother, John spent his childhood moving around the country, never settling for longer than 3 years. Saying goodbye was a regular occurrence, so he learned that getting involved in his community quickly was the best way to say hello.
John’s mother was the first person to guide his insistence on community service, and she led by example. When she learned through her church about a large, poor family living at the local dump, she began regularly inviting one of their children, a blind boy named Kenny, to the house. John took Kenny to Cub Scouts, spent weekends with him, and eventually became good friends. He now claims that this was his first experience with “being part of your community and taking care of others.”
He started volunteering in churches, in communities, sending canned goods to other countries, etc. It was through these actions that he realized: what you do in your little area has an impact and ripple effect on the world at large. This sentiment remained with John through his teaching and administrative career, as he often found himself asking his students, “What does this have to do with your life? What does this have to do with the geography of your town, your county, your state or your country?”
After retiring, John and his wife moved from Vermont to New Hampshire, and he vowed to her that he would not get involved in community projects for a while. However, the community of Eastman had other ideas, and John was soon recruited into the Lakes and Streams Committee. When the Committee addressed the issue of storm water run-off, they decided to take an inter-generational approach. And so the Youth Conservation Corps, or YCC, was born.
Originally a small program, John took control of YCC and made immediate structural and content-based changes to make the program stronger. A 6-week long summer program was the result. For 3 days a week, 3 hours a day, kids ages 12-18 were to do real work using Best Management Practices to improve the ecology of their lake and watershed. They began by doing lake assessments throughout the 37 miles of trail in Eastman looking for signs of erosion, run offs, and clear cutting.
To solve some of these issues, YCC has built dry wells, drip-line infiltration trenches, rain gardens, and water bars. Stairs were built along a path to both prevent erosion and keep kayakers safe as they drag their equipment to the lakes. The group designed, built, and implemented three Little Free Libraries for the community. These are just a few examples of the wide variety of fantastically substantial projects being fully carried out by kids between the ages of 12-18.
Participants are not merely told what to do by adults. They develop the plans. They wrote their own mission statement. They even designed their own t-shirts! Now in its 5th year, YCC has bloomed. Everyone in the community benefits from and becomes involved: kids, their parents, their grandparents and town officials as well. A local photographer even created a YCC portfolio. It is no doubt that YCC was a major contributor when Eastman was nationally acknowledged as the Best Intergenerational Community of 2016, and John was there when the community was recognized in Washington, D.C.
Indeed, John not only encourages adults and children to interact. He also gives adolescents of varying ages the chance to bond and understand each other. All YCC kids work in one group, meaning that 11-12 year old kids are getting the chance to interact with 18 year olds, and vice versa. When a 15 year old member wanted John’s help building pollinator hotels, John agreed but insisted that the boy recruit 2-3 younger kids to both learn about pollinators as well as help to build the hotels.
Although this may seem like a small number gap, their experiences, development, socialization, and maturity levels could not be more different. The opportunity to create friendships between them is monumental, especially in a world plagued by bullying and the pressures of growing up.
YCC has even created a winter counterpart! “Whatever Floats Your Boat” takes place in February and April. Participants, mostly YCC members, build a boat from scratch during winter break in February. Come April, they finish the process with paint, varnish, and seats. The vessel is then raffled off in the summer months to pay for the following year’s materials.
Through it all, John remains honest that even community service has its selfish reasons, and we all like a little recognition here and there. But John receives the recognition he desires through the kids he works with, claiming that he’s saved cards and letters that are “worth more money than you could put in the bank.” Indeed, upon his nomination, numerous letters of recommendation from YCC members, parents, neighbors, and colleagues explained to AARP New Hampshire’s selection committee how John has impacted their community and their lives. Much like a ripple effect, isn’t it?
The Andrus Award for Community Service recognizes an individual that has extended beyond the barriers of age to bring a community together through volunteerism. Seemingly the entire community of Eastman made it evidently clear to us at AARP New Hampshire their nominee has done just that. As such, it is a pleasure to award AARP New Hampshire’s 2017 Andrus Award for Community Service to John Larrabee.