Yaakov Kaminetsky remembers his first meeting four years ago with a young boy he volunteered to tutor, because he found himself at gunpoint -- Nerf gunpoint, that is.
Kaminetsky was a freshman at Davis Renov Stahler Yeshiva High School for Boys in Woodmere when he began working with Moshe, a fourth-grader with attention-deficit disorder. Moshe, with his finger on the trigger, jokingly told Kaminetsky that there would be no homework done that evening.
Eventually, the persistent Kaminetsky was successful in getting Moshe into his chair to work. Kaminetsky, one of Newsday's 12 Extraordinary Seniors, arrived at Moshe's house every week for two-hour sessions, part of the required 120 hours of community service he needed to graduate.
"I didn't have any tricks," Kaminetsky, 17, said of breaking through to Moshe. "It really was just a matter of patience."
The most fulfilling part of the sessions, Kaminetsky said, is that the learning often went beyond the academics of math, science and social studies. Sometimes the two would just hang out in Moshe's room for a while to chat about school and the third-grader's life in general.
"He taught me that even when one is struggling mightily, all it takes is a little hard work and help from others, to completely change your own attitude and behavior," Kaminetsky said. "It really has been an amazing opportunity to be able to give a little of myself, and receive more than I ever could have asked for in return."
Kaminetsky, of Woodmere, has taken eight Advanced Placement classes and was named a National Merit Commended Scholar and an AP Scholar with Distinction.
Kaminetsky is also a member of his school's mock trial, debate, college bowl, math and basketball teams -- the latter of which placed second this year in the Metropolitan Yeshiva High School Athletic League.
Kaminetsky raised $3,000 for Yachad/National Jewish Council for Disabilities by collecting pledges from family and friends based on his participation in Miami's Half Marathon. And school officials said he has put in six to 10 extra hours a week learning the Talmud.
In college, Kaminetsky said he is most looking forward to "being exposed to a higher level of learning." He will study in Israel for one or two years before enrolling at Yeshiva University in Manhattan.
"Yaakov is a leader and his friends look up to him and the example he sets," said Madeline Rosenberg, the school's guidance counseling director. "Often, in order to achieve a goal for the greater good, he puts himself in situations that are out of his comfort zone."