Position: Support Services Director
School: F.M. Kirby Children's Center of the Madison Area YMCA
School District: Borough of Madison
City, State: Madison, New Jersey
About the Nominee: Matthew Kovacs was nominated by Harriet McCarter, executive director of the F.M. Kirby Children's Center of the Madison Area YMCA. The goal of any LifeChanger is to make a positive difference in the lives of students, their families and the local community. A self-effacing, humble teacher who has quietly become an incredible LifeChanger is Mr. Kovacs.
Mr. Matt, as he is fondly referred to by the students, is not just a LifeChanger because of what he does, but because of who he is. He lives the Y's core values of caring, respect, honesty and social responsibility. He is the unique individual who can make every student and every individual feel like the most important person in the room. Mr. Matt is so much more than an educator; he is a mentor, a sounding board, a role model, a standard bearer, a friend and a supporter who will never let anyone down. He is always there when someone needs him, even when they don’t know that they do yet. Mr. Matt is the one who can see past the shield that students use to hide their hurts, fears and insecurities, and he is the one who consistently earns students' trust and protects their confidences. The respect that Mr. Matt brings to every interaction, every problem, every child and every idea immediately opens the door to all that is possible and positive. He leaves an indelible imprint on young minds that they remember and will hopefully emulate. It is clear to everyone that Mr. Matt lives the core values that he teaches and that he dedicates his life to serving others every single day. Because of this, he has truly changed lives in profound ways.
Mr. Matt is the one who noticed that a student being shuttled between households never had the clothing they needed to participate in sports activities – so he provided it. Mr. Matt is the friend who could not ignore the financial hardship of a terminally ill colleague, so he donated his own vacation time to help. He is the teacher who understood the pain of an only child who resorted to aggressive behavior because they desperately missed their parents, so he coached them. He saw the need of a family whose child struggled desperately with anxiety and fitting in, so he created special adaptations to support the child and slowly integrate them into the program. Mr. Matt realized that a developmentally challenged volunteer struggled to perform their duties because they did not understand them – so he reconfigured the duties and guided the volunteer to success. Mr. Matt felt the desperation of a student who lost their favorite stuffed panda on show and tell day, so he searched and found them a replacement. He saw the stress on an instructor’s face during a difficult class, so he quietly joined the group to help get things back on track. He knows that students need to be involved and must have their voices be heard, so he created a Student Council and mentored its young members to undertake community service projects such as Operation Gratitude. Student Council members consider important topics like diversity, inclusion and peace within the context of the school population.
Beyond his endless work with students and their families, Mr. Matt also makes an ongoing commitment to the needs of his community and to strengthening the support and resources that improve lives. He is a certified Community Mental Health Coach and Trainer who dedicates hours of his time to educating the community about the importance of mental health and reducing the stigma associated with it. He is involved in initiatives such as Out of the Darkness and has made suicide prevention one of his personal priorities. Mr. Matt is a Living Our Cause Champion for the Madison YMCA, sharing stories with the community about the Y's philanthropic work. On multiple occasions, he has been recognized for his work at Kirby with Advancing Our Cause Awards. Mr. Matt also firmly believes in the importance of working with parents. He is currently working on a Parent Conference that will provide informative workshops on topics such as mindfulness, parent coaching, nutrition, reducing stress in children’s lives, CPR, First Aid and other topics to make parents’ jobs easier. Mr. Matt has brought a new level of community involvement to the student population, as well. He has actively worked on building partnerships with community service providers such as the Morristown Soup Kitchen and the ASPCA so that students can visit and learn first hand about the humanitarian work these organizations do.
The Kirby Center has a saying: “If there’s a need, there’s Matt.” Mr. Matt makes an impact because he listens. He has integrity and makes it obvious that he truly cares. Once you meet him, you cannot help but remember him for the rest of your life as a person who makes everyone feel like somebody who matters. Mr. Matt is a true LifeChanger, and in touching the countless lives that he does in so many meaningful ways, he is certainly creating future LifeChangers who can only make our world a better place.