Sophia Lennox has always been interested in history, so when her mother asked her to attend a meeting of the historical society in her hometown of West Windsor, New Jersey, she didn’t hesitate.
Three years after attending her first meeting, Sophia, now a high school senior, has become an integral part of the Historical Society of West Windsor. As a volunteer, she leads tours, archives and catalogues historical documents, and manages social media. As the youngest member by several decades, she has brought a renewed burst of energy and hopes to further engage the younger residents of the Township, carrying on the legacy and work of the Historical Society.
By documenting, celebrating and sharing the history of West Windsor, Sophia is making a difference in her community.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Describe your volunteer role.
I’m a part of the Historical Society of West Windsor, which is a really small town in New Jersey. I joined three years ago and I’m the youngest member by several decades. When I joined the Historical Society, they were open once every other month. When I came in, I started to propose things and try to get the museum open more. Three years later, we have a website, social media… We’re working on events to get more people involved. We’re starting a club at the high school next year.
How did you get started volunteering with the Historical Society?
My mom was going to join, because she is a part of the Affordable Housing Committee, but didn’t really have a lot of time, so she asked me to go to one of the meetings. I was like, “This is awesome!” So I joined instead and got started.
Have you always been interested in history?
History has been the most interesting thing to me since I was little. When I was little, I was always like, “When I go to college, I’m going to study history.” Because my grandfather was really interested in history, and transferred that to me.
Describe a typical tour at the Historical Society.
We have a bunch of different things on the property they can see. We’ll take them to the schoolhouse, which is the exact schoolhouse that was on the grounds, but we had to move it. Then we’ll go to the barn, which has the environmental section and a bunch of old tools. Then they’ll go into the actual house and take them through all the rooms and explain anything if they have any questions. We’ll show them all the objects and explain to them what life was like from the 17th to the early 19th century.
What inspires you to volunteer?
The first thing that got me really involved was when I found a stack of death certificates [at the Township], which was crazy, because I had never heard of any of these people before, and they were apparently important figures. I felt something, and I wanted to figure out who these people were and why we didn’t know about them. I don’t want anyone’s story to go away. There’s so much information that we have at the Township that we don’t learn about in school, that we don’t have at the Historical Society, and I want everyone to be able to learn about these really important people or events.
What has been the most rewarding part of your volunteer role?
This man came in and he was looking for information on his childhood, trying to have sort of nostalgia. We took him into the room that we have all the children’s toys, and he found a copy of a book that he forgot the name of, but he loved as a kid. He wanted to send a copy to his mom. That was really great because we are actually helping someone connect with their parents. That happens all the time: people come in asking for information about their family and we’re able to find old documents about their family in West Windsor or we’re able to make actual impact in their lives, connect them with information about their family they haven’t had before.
The Historical Society is in the middle of West Windsor, so a lot of people who live here are like, “Oh! I didn’t know we had a historical society.” They’ll come in and find out that their house was owned by a really important person in history, or one person found out that George Washington stayed in what used to be their house.
Why do you think it’s important for young people to be involved with the Historical Society?
The people on the board are getting older, and we need more younger people to come in and learn. They’ve lived here all their lives, some of them are in their 90s, so they have really amazing stories. I think a lot of younger people should come in, learn from them, so that we can continue what they started 30 years ago. Without younger people learning, we’ll lose a lot of what we have and we’ll lose a lot of the stories of West Windsor.
What partnerships, programs, or events are you looking forward to?
We just partnered with the Arts Council of West Windsor, which is going to be amazing because we can have a lot of events with them and they have a really great following and we can combine them, which would be awesome. We’re also planning on talking to schools and planning field trips to the Historical Society, which would be amazing because it would get younger kids in, and they can bring their parents, and they would learn a lot on field trips.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
I guess, just getting involved as much as you can will have an impact. At the beginning, I was only able to go to the meetings, which was only every other month, and was only contributing a little bit. Over time, it became more and more important, and more and more of a priority in my life, and I was able to devote more time. I think if you are only able to give one hour of your time every other month, that’s okay, you’re contributing something. But little amounts of time add up and they’re not insignificant.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Sophia Lennox? Find local volunteer opportunities.