High School Swim Champ Discovers Volunteering – and Joy – Amid the Pandemic

Theresa Milio is not your typical 17-year-old. Not by a long shot.

For the last four years, the high school senior would head out around 5AM for an hour-long commute for swim training with the New York Sharks Aquatics. An hour back when done for a day of school would follow, then on many days she’d head back on the hour-long community to train again.

But like for most of us, Theresa’s life took a complete 180 back in March. School, swimming, and socializing with friends all came to a screeching halt when the pandemic struck.

In the weeks that followed, the soft-spoken three-time nationally-ranked breaststroker and two-time New York state high school 200-yard freestyle relay champion missed all her championship meets – and a shot at the Olympic Trials time cuts.

While incredibly disappointed, the All-American athlete took the shift in stride. And decided to turn lemons into lemonade: she began volunteering for RideConnect, a program of Family Services of Westchester.

“I knew that vulnerable people like senior citizens can’t leave right now. I’m less at risk and can help them.”

Each weekend, Theresa calls the four seniors she is assigned to shop for to get their lists, chat a bit, and make payment arrangements. Then on Monday and Tuesday mornings she’s up early – with mask and gloves on – headed to the grocery. After making her hands-free deliveries, she returns home for her online school obligations.

“It’s such a really nice feeling helping others. This is my first volunteer experience, and it feels so gratifying.”

Theresa views her work as more than just running errands for seniors. On a recent volunteer excursion, she snuck a surprise into one of her recipient’s bags: white tulips. Upon putting her groceries away, she discovered the tulips, which unknown to Theresa, are her favorite flowers.

“What a caring gesture that made my day! This young lady is a role model for compassion. She went the extra mile to help a stranger and her empathy and caring heart are greatly appreciated.”

Inspired, a couple weekends later – and not even on a grocery run – Theresa ventured to an Italian neighborhood in The Bronx to buy, with her own funds, a special treat for all her seniors (all of whom are Italian): a fresh loaf of Italian bread and two biscotti for each. One senior, Barbara, was so grateful for the gesture she sent a photo and note of thanks to Theresa.

Next year, this big-hearted teen heads to the Naval Academy for college, then a five-year service obligation. In the meantime, she plans to continue to volunteer. “If you can leave during these times, I encourage people to spend time helping others – a lot of people need our help.”

“You’ve given Theresa the gift of volunteerism,” says mom Norma. “Because of her schedule, she was never able to volunteer in the past, and she’s finding it very rewarding and humbling. I am very grateful she’s experiencing this before the greatest service of her life in the military.”

More About Theresa Milio
Joined Volunteer Team: 2020
Age: 17
School: Edgemont High School / 4.3 GPA
Hometown; Scarsdale, NY
Swim Team: New York Sharks
Of note:

  • Three-time USA Scholastic All American – a designation for swimmers with a 3.5+ GPA and who qualify for the USA Junior National swim meet.
  • Junior National and National Qualifier – USA Swimming

To volunteer or to inquire about receiving grocery deliveries, email Karen Ganis at kganis@fsw.org for details.