From charity Kickball games to volunteering at soup kitchens and local schools, Max Vogel-Freedman is passionate about community engagement.

Last summer, he worked with the New York City Mayor’s office on a legislative effort to provide feminine hygiene products to public school students. Not only did Max conduct the research behind the initiative, but he also participated in an event where he helped distribute the products at a local public high school. Eventually, the team that Max worked with helped pass a law guaranteeing access to feminine hygiene products for New York City’s female shelter residents, students and inmates.

This summer, Max, a senior at Bowdoin College studying Government and Legal Studies, was an intern at Burness, where he provided support on a number of projects including the 2017 Culture of Health Prize and the Heinz Award.

We sat down with Max to talk about the importance of community engagement and why he thinks others should jump at opportunities to serve in their communities.

Tell us about a moment that helped you see the importance of community engagement?

When I was a freshman in college, my baseball coach came to us with an opportunity to serve meals at a local soup kitchen. It was eye-opening experience because we were these pretty well-off kids from a local liberal arts school, and our circumstances didn’t mirror what was going on in the rest of the city, at all.

It was one of the first times I got to step out of my college bubble and speak to people living in the same town where I went to school. I didn’t expect the experience to generate as many smiles as it did. But I realized that I could make an impact by taking the time to listen and find ways to relate to people living a different life than my own.

This was your first time living in Washington, D.C. Did you get to participate in any fun community events?

The Playworks kickball tournament! I didn’t know what it was, so I almost said “no.” But I’m glad I didn’t because I never would have meet Josue.

Josue was a local elementary school student who was the junior coach for our team that day. He was shy at first. He didn’t have any of his friends, and he was hanging with people who were 10 to 20 years older than him. But we connected at different moments during the game. And by the end, he was joking with our team like he had known us for years.

It was really neat to see how kickball mattered in that moment, not just for Josue, but for everyone who had the opportunity to play.

What advice do you have for others looking to get involved in their community?

Don’t say “no” to new opportunities. It might seem like you have to get used to where you are before you get involved, but you don’t have to wait. Whether it’s living in a new town, working on a new project or meeting new people, I’ve learned something valuable from every experience.

Interview by Jaclyn De Bonis and Lowell Dempsey