Luke Altman remembers playing with Legos in the children’s department at Mattituck-Laurel Library as a toddler. The 16-year-old from Laurel recalled that children’s librarian Barbara Moore would watch over him and other children, becoming an ever-present mentor during his younger days.
“I was there for a lot of my life,” he said. “As a baby, my mom took me to the library. As a younger kid, I went to Lego and science programs.”
In an effort to give back to the place and people that shaped his childhood, Luke, a sophomore at Mattituck High School, has completed dozens of community service hours in the library’s children’s department and with other local organizations over the past year.
His work has not gone unnoticed. On March 23, Luke received the President’s Volunteer Service Award in a ceremony at the library attended by Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo, Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell and Town Trustee Greg Williams, representing Congressman Lee Zeldin.
The award, endorsed by the President of the United States, is based on the number of community service hours completed in a certain time period. By completing 50 hours of service in one year, Luke met the requirements for the bronze-level award for his age group. He also received letters of recognition from Mr. Zeldin, state Sen. Ken LaValle and President Trump.
Most of his work, he said, was done at the library, where he shelved books, cleaned toys and greeted community members. He also volunteered within his school and at Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton, where he took care of lost, abandoned and rescued cats.
For Luke, the award was more about recognizing his mentors at the library. He credits teen services librarian Sara Colichio, library director Jeff Walden and Karen Letteriello, head of the children’s department for providing guidance on how to navigate helping the community.
“It gave the library their moment,” he said about the ceremony. “They helped me out a lot with this.”
Ms. Letteriello, who previously co-led children’s programs with Ms. Moore, said she remembers working with Luke when he was a child.
“He’s so intelligent, and he knows what needs to get done for this library,” she said. “He’s so kind to the kids … some people thought he worked here.”
In addition to making time for community service, Luke juggles a variety of sports and extracurricular activities, including varsity cross country, varsity wrestling, JV tennis, engineering club and all-county chorus. He also serves as student council vice president and snagged a spot on the school’s high honor roll.
It was never his goal to win an award for his effort, Luke said, which was strictly a result of helping the community.
“The library helped me a lot as a kid,” he said. “It was about giving back. That kind of turned into the opportunity to get the award, after I had completed so many hours there.”
Luke credited his parents, Christina and Jason, for motivating him to get involved in community service. They also volunteered locally during their teenage years, he said.
He accepted the award in memory of Ms. Moore, who died July 2016 from kidney cancer, saying she had a lasting impact on his life.
“She was a huge part of my childhood,” Luke said. “As a kid, she was always present at the children programs. She’d help run them, she’d be there. She was always present.”