After Retirement, New Yorker Spends Five Days a Week Serving the City’s Great Institutions

Daily Point of Light # 7795 Apr 22, 2024

Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Mark Mandel. Read his story, and nominate an outstanding volunteer or family as a Daily Point of Light.

For 13 years and counting, Mark Mandel has volunteered with the Central Park Conservancy in a multitude of ways, doing jobs from greeting visitors to assisting groundskeepers. Since 2010, Mandel has given more than 4,600 volunteer hours to the conservancy, but his service doesn’t stop there.

The 73-year-old also volunteers at the American Museum of Natural History, Metropolitan Museum of Art and helps prepare and serve food weekly at a local soup kitchen. His retirement and volunteerism have become his “new life,” one that’s helping him reach his goal of making a true difference in the world.

What inspires you to volunteer?

I volunteer five days a week: three days a week at Central Park Conservancy, one day at the American Museum of Natural History and one day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I also prepare food and serve at a soup kitchen on one of those days. So I have a pretty involved volunteer life and kind of devoted myself to that after I retired. My motivation in life right now is that I want to make a positive difference in the world and I have a lot to give. I’m such a proud New Yorker that I have decided to devote myself to some of the greatest institutions — iconic institutions — of the world as a volunteer, which gives me great satisfaction and enables me to make a difference and help other people at the same time.

I worked in television as a sports television executive in New York for most of my career, which was a fun job and I liked it. But I never got anything back in terms of a tangible feeling that I made a difference in the world. I’m able to do that now in my new life as a volunteer. Now I’ve got the time and I devote, like I said, five days a week to it.

As a volunteer with the Central Park Conservancy, Mark Mandel removes invasive trees and plants, loads and spreads mulch, chops ice and shovels snow in the winter, and much more.

Tell us about your volunteer role with Central Park Conservancy, the American Museum of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art?

I’ve been a volunteer at the Central Park Conservancy for 13 years and I’ve done a number of different volunteer jobs. Now I’m a gardener’s assistant, which is a very physically demanding job. I always seek out the most physically demanding job because oftentimes I want to do jobs that are the most impactful to the park and I enjoy that. I also love a challenge, a physical challenge, so I do things like remove invasive trees and plants, load and spread mulch, chop ice and shoveling snow in the winter, improve trails and I also help with weeding. Afterwards, I feel great that I could see what I’ve done. I could feel it with my body; I’m achy, dirty and I’m tired. It’s a great feeling. I also work with other volunteers, which is a big part of what I love to do. We collaborate, make friends and we work together.

The other role I have in the park is called a greeter. Every Sunday, I go into an information booth in the park where I welcome people from all over the world about the park, giving them directions, ideas and what to see. I also take that opportunity because a lot of people from out of town have questions about New York and I’m a very proud New Yorker and very happy to help them enjoy not only the park, but the whole city.

The third thing that I did in the park was being a tour guide. For four years, the conservancy had all volunteer tour guides and then the pandemic hit. Now they have a professional staff that does that, but for four years I did that. It was a labor of love to learn about the park because the park is so special. The park is the first public park in America. It was conceived as a place where all people can enjoy the park and get away. The park, to this day, serves not only New Yorkers, but everybody in the same way it was intended to when it was first conceived. That makes me feel special that I could be part of that; that I could help people in a way that the park designers intended.

At the Natural History Museum, I’m an explainer, which means I go into six different halls and if people have questions, then I can help answer those questions. I also help out at the information desk. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I’m the visitor experience information person sitting at a desk. At the soup kitchen, which we do every Wednesday morning, I make sandwiches and then serve coffee, soup and food.

Every time I’m in the park and every time I’m at the museums, I pinch myself and say how lucky I am. It makes me want to give back even more to those who are visiting those places. It’s a very rewarding relationship between me and these institutions. I would recommend it to everybody who has the time.

What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?

To make a positive impact. I believe all of us have an opportunity to make big differences in the world. I think many of us may have an opportunity to do small things that, when you add them up, make a big difference. That’s sort of where I am in life. I do small things and I do a lot of it; I put in close to 5,000 hours of volunteer work in the park itself. It’s a cumulative thing that I think over time makes a difference and I get really good feedback from the folks at the park and the museums because they really appreciate me. It’s a great symbiotic relationship.

What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?

I’ve learned that we can all make a difference. I’ve also learned about gardening in ways I never knew were possible. It’s an educational experience for me. I’ve learned a lot more about art too. I learn more about the natural world when I go to the Natural History Museum. I also have made some great friendships with other people who have similar views on life; we have a shared vision about life. We have shared interests and volunteering is very rewarding that way, when you find people who you can do it with.

73-year-old Mark Mandel assists the groundskeeper at the Central Park Conservancy to keep the land clean, trimmed and ready for visitors.

Any advice for people who want to start volunteering?

I talk to a lot of people who are astonished that I do it five days a week. They’re kind of set in their routines, and can’t figure out how to make the first step to volunteer. I say just take the first step. Most of these organizations have positions that would be suitable for everybody. Everybody doesn’t have to be like me doing the most difficult physical jobs. We have a lot of people in the park who do things at their own level, at their own speed, shaped to their own interest and there are opportunities out there — all you have to do is make yourself available. I would tell them how rewarding it is. It’ll be worth their while once they do it. Until you do it, you don’t really realize how great it is to feel that you’re helping other people.

What do you want people to learn from your story?

In order for the world to be a better place, we all have a role in making that happen. There’s a lot of strife, there’s a lot of misery and a lot of people have difficulties in life. If we could do something good, we ought to do it. I don’t criticize people who don’t, but I think that those who do are going to make a difference and that’s ultimately what we all want.

Tell us about future partnerships, programs or events that you are excited about.

The Conservancy recently planted a tree in Central Park in my honor — an American Sycamore — which I’m very humbled by and very honored by. I’d like to be cremated and have my ashes serve as fertilizer for my own tree one day. It’s 30 feet tall right now, and it’ll grow to about 100 feet. It’s a legacy that I can say I’ve made and I can say I’ve made a difference. The satisfaction level is off the charts.

Do you want to make a difference in your community like Mark? Find local volunteer opportunities.

Madi Donham