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Writing by Robin Goetz

Artwork by Justin Negard

Fourteen-year-old Max Lazarowitz stands on the river’s edge, skipping stones. One after another, the smooth rocks gently ripple through the calm waters of the Ossining waterfront, the portrait of an idyllic childhood. And he’s determined to keep it that way.

“The waterfront has always been my playground,” says Lazarowitz, a freshman at Ossining High School. “I’ve lived here my entire life, and I remember playing in the splash pad when I was little, kayaking and walking my dogs here.”

During COVID, the waterfront became his home away from home; it was an escape that helped him deal with the monotony and stresses of quarantine. As he spent day after day there, Lazarowitz began to dream up concepts that could enhance his little haven.

“I started to wonder why we don’t have a mini-golf course here,” he explains. “Everybody likes mini golf–it’s one of my all-time favorite activities. Really, anyone can play. So, I started researching and learned there were no mini-golf courses nearby. Many articles I found said that it is one of the least likely businesses to fail. I thought, I am going to make this happen!” 

Lazarowitz, who says he thinks a career in building may be in his future, began to plot and plan. He sketched ideas, sourced materials and, with the help of a neighbor, built his first hole. 

Plotting the course

Lazarowitz brought his prototype to Ossining’s Earth Day event last April, hoping to build enthusiasm and get support for the project. That’s when he met Julia Schonberg, the community engagement and outreach coordinator for Bethany Arts Community, who also had a booth at the event. 

“I was immediately so taken with Max,” Schonberg remembers. “He was so passionate and engaging, and you could feel his love for this community. Plus, his idea was so aligned with Bethany’s community-driven initiatives.”

Schonberg felt so strongly about Lazarowitz’s idea that she suggested he apply for a grant through Submerse NY, a state-wide pilot flood-risk awareness and outreach effort. 

The organization had just announced a call for local artists to submit installation ideas to “excite the public imagination, engage residents, and raise awareness about Ossining’s climate vulnerability, flood risk, and resilience.” Lazarowitz immediately applied and won. Then it was time to put his idea into action. 

The Bethany Arts Community has agreed to partner with Lazarowitz, offering a workspace and storage; they will eventually host the installation. 

On the green

“Max has always had an instinct and drive to give back,” says his mother, Jessica Hauben. “Incorporating climate change into this project was just the icing on the cake.” 

In fact, mini golf was not Lazarowitz’s first community idea. Several years ago, he singlehandedly created “Max’s Arcade,” a mobile collection of handmade arcade-type games, to raise funds for organizations close to his heart, such as Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital and the SPCA

“I had so much fun doing Max’s Arcade, but what I didn’t like about it was that it had my name in the title,” Lazarowitz explains. “I wanted the mini-golf course to really be about everyone and for everyone.” 

Hence, “Hudson Holes” was born, named after the beloved river the project is trying to protect. According to the nonprofit organization Riverkeeper, whose goal is to protect and restore the Hudson River, climate change is causing increased flooding, which impacts rivers and river towns. These floods can “cause powerful storm surges, rising water tables and saltwater intrusion, all of which can result in potentially devastating impacts on our natural resources and communities.”

“Each aspect of my mini-golf course design revolves around the Hudson River and the Ossining waterfront,” says Lazarowitz. “Through playing the game, my hope is to educate people about the river and ways to keep it clean. Each hole will represent a different aspect of the river and will have both factual information and ways each player can help preserve this important waterway.”

The long game

Though Hudson Holes is Lazarowitz’s vision, he is hoping it will be a true community effort. He has hosted information sessions and “Explore and Learn” times on weekends to get more people enthused and involved. Participants of all ages have sketched holes, contributed thoughts and volunteered to help build the course. 

Lazarowitz is also working closely with Ossining schools and students to gather ideas, create content and help build. 

“What we have really enjoyed about working with Max, beyond his drive, motivation and innovative, forward-thinking ideas, is his true commitment to this being a community project,” says Schonberg. “He truly understands what it means to be part of a greater community and is dedicated to making sure everyone has a voice and is represented. He’s engaging all minds and imaginations in our town to make it happen.”

Teeing up

Lazarowitz has spent the last several months planning; he’s had Zoom calls with Submerse NY, Bethany Arts Community, Ossining town board members and school representatives, forging the path to bring Hudson Holes to fruition.  

“This has been the hardest part,” admits Lazarowitz. “I am learning a lot about the process of making a big project like this happen.” 

In the coming months, Lazarowitz will hold more workshops and information sessions at Bethany Arts Community. He is also planning a materials drive, inviting the community and local businesses to donate the building components needed to create Hudson Holes. 

“I am researching and speaking to experts about the best materials to use,” he says. “This needs to be sustainable and also be able to withstand the elements outside.” 

Lazarowitz hopes some of the items needed will be found in people’s garages and sheds, which is in line with his goal of being environmentally friendly.

Hudson Holes is a love letter to Lazarowitz’s beloved hometown, and his hopes for preserving it. 

“I love Ossining so much, and I know that so many other people here feel what a special place the town, and especially the waterfront, is,” he says. “I want this to really capture that spirit. One day, I hope we can all look at Hudson Holes and say, ‘Look what we all built!’”

Lazarowitz’s goal is to complete Hudson Holes this summer. For more information on volunteering, donating or attending a workshop, and to see a video of Lazarowitz speaking about his project, scan the QR code below. 

This article was published in the March/April 2024 print edition of Connect to Northern Westchester.

Robin Goetz
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