Versatile teen is top volunteer at Central City YMCA

Published May 15 2014

Joshua Felder had just turned 17 when he got a call: He was the Central City YMCA's volunteer of the year. Last summer, Joshua spent more than 300 hours volunteering at a children's summer program. He encouraged and entertained kids and taught them some new skills. At a dinner in March, he was recognized as one of just two teens to ever get the award, said the Tampa YMCA's communications director, Lalita Llerena. Tampa Bay Times reporter Elisabeth Parker caught up with Joshua at his Y to hear about his past community service and his plans for more.

How did it feel to hear you had won?

I was so happy I wanted to cry. I was just so surprised. And then I was surprised again at the awards ceremony because I was the only teen.

Tell me about the award.

It's in my living room on an entertainment center, next to my baseball and art trophies and family portraits. It's a glass circle with the YMCA logo on it. I have a picture of it on my phone. (He finds it and turns his phone to share.)

Did you work hard to earn it?

No. The whole summer was really fun with the kids and to work with staff, too. (Naeem Youngblood, the Central City Y's membership director) really helped me. He nominated me for the award. I want to thank him for that.

He says you always had a smile on your face.

Yeah, that's true.

Some people say it's hard to get teenagers to volunteer.

Not me. Almost every weekday last summer I was there. I taught the kids to hold their breath while swimming. They would watch me swim in the lanes, then the flip at the end. I was on the swim team in my sophomore year. They got a lot of energy. I do, too. If they fought, I'd tell them to break it up, be cool.

Are you going to volunteer there this summer?

Yes, unless I get a job. I have an application in at United Skates. I'm real fast, but I can't skate backward. That or Boston Market. I like their baked chicken and especially their cinnamon apples. I got a huge appetite.

Tell me about school.

I'm a junior at Hillsborough High School. I have a 4.0 GPA. I'm on the track team. I'm pretty fast. I did the 200, 400 and 800 meters this year.

What's your favorite class in school?

I like science. I like the environment and how the body works. I like art, too.

What do you want to do after you graduate?

I'd like to go to Hillsborough Community College and be a firefighter or an EMT (emergency medical technician). I want to get a job as a firefighter here in Tampa. I was born here. I love everything about Tampa.

That sounds like a perfect fit. You're athletic and have a heart for service.

My parents raised me right. My dad used to play baseball for Leto High School, and my mom was a cheerleader at King High. There's a lot of athletes in my family. I got some of their genes. I have a uncle who can dance. I like to break-dance, too.

I bet the kids like to see that.

Yeah, I taught them how to do a split and showed them how I walk on my hands. I can do pushups while standing on my hands. My mom says I taught myself.

Wow ...

I talked to (the kids) a lot, too. I encouraged them. I asked them what they plan to do when they grow up. I read them books like The Little Mermaid and The Three Bears. They really liked it because I read it dramatically and made it comedic.

I bet you have a lot of little friends.

I hope I see them again. I miss them. I hope I get new ones, too.

Weekend Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity.