Written by Pat Grace Friday, 08 October 2010 00:00
The brainchild of Kim Cerqua, Manhasset High School social studies teacher, the third annual Community Service Day took place Wednesday, Sept. 29 at the high school. To graduate, seniors are required to spend 15 hours in community service. Three years ago Cerqua attended a service fair in Farmingdale to scout opportunities for student volunteers, when it occurred to her that she could replicate the service fair in Manhasset; could invite charities to present local opportunities to satisfy the student volunteer requirement. Having successfully launched the introductory “mixer” it is now, in its third year, going strong.
The following organizations were represented: Adventures in Learning/EOC; American Cancer Society; AHRC; CAPP; CASA; Coalition for a Safer Manhasset; Island Harvest; Habitat for Humanity; Nassau Autism; Manhasset Women’s Coalition Against Breast Cancer; MAX; Ronald McDonald House; SEPTA; SCA/ Planet Manhasset; Tower Foundation; and Tuesday’s Children.
It’s a trifecta benefiting students, organizations and the community at large-especially in this economy. Students receive valuable, even marketable experience, organizations benefit from volunteer activity and the community prospers from improved services.
Paul Petras was recruiting volunteers for the Tower Foundation, a non-profit organization established in 1991 by members of the Manhasset community to enrich the educational experience of Manhasset School District students. The foundation has provided, Petras said, over $1 million in gifts to the schools. Most recently, they have provided the Tower Team Building Initiative. The initiative takes kids out of the classroom and teaches them to work as a team to solve problems using each one’s unique skills and talents. Jacqueline Palma listened to Petras’ presentation and was hooked. “It’s a great cause and has helped the school so much. They have provided SMARTBoards, a foreign language lab and now a rockclimbing wall. I’ll volunteer for them because I use all the resources they bring to the school.” Along with Paul Petras, Ken Hyde manned the Tower booth, distributing literature and talking with the students. Hyde said they were interested in students who could volunteer in fund raising for Tower projects.
“First time we’ve been here” indicated representatives from Habitat for Humanity of Suffolk. They claimed that students from over 35 high schools in Nassau and Suffolk counties have participated in both fundraising and in helping to build homes. They were suggesting students provide their email addresses to be kept apprised of potential projects.
Juniors can complete their required hours over the summer and/or during the school year as seniors with approved organizations. One student was considering volunteering for Habitat for Humanity over the summer if he did not have a job.
The fair provided students an opportunity to learn more about agencies that welcome volunteers, and the vast array of opportunities.
Eileen Russo, Coalition for a Safer Manhasset (CSM), held the attention of a number of students while Katie Miller, co-founder CSM, explained she’d like to recruit students to volunteer for Safety Day, Bike Safety Day, the Homecoming Parade, marching in the Memorial Day Parade, and much more, including taking photos around town and submitting them for eventual publication in the Manhasset Press for “How Can We Fix This Picture?” Additionally, Miller said, volunteers could participate in safety contests to devise catchy slogans like “Click It or Tickit,” or even write articles for CSM for publication.
Kim Cerqua, Community Service Coordinator, said this year it was decided to hold the service fair in September instead of May in order to start the year off with more exposure to opportunities for service in the community. “This is a fantastic opportunity to bring together all local organizations. We work hard to build a bridge between the school and local organizations, and, as organizations become aware of our goals they are even creating opportunities for the kids.”
The concept is so successful that now they’ve opened up volunteer opportunities to all students, grades 9-12. No longer is it just educating juniors on opportunities to fulfill their senior requirement of 15 hours of community service.
“These two make it happen,” said Cerqua introducing Jacqueline Palma and Priyanka Panigraha. The Manhasset Press is well acquainted with Ms. Panigraha who has covered the Manhasset High School graduation for years, as well as other school events, always very professionally.
Palma explained how using Facebook has made it so much easier to coordinate the whole student volunteering process. “People weren’t answering their emails” she complained,” but now with a senior class Facebook page all volunteer positions can be posted there, giving the senior class right of first refusal before lower grades snatch up the positions. Palma also commented that students want to volunteer but don’t always know how to go about it. “With Facebook we make it easier for them. We didn’t have a class Facebook page until this year, we’ve modernized and it is a lot better. This year we have a real head start thanks to Facebook.”
Panigraha said they search for projects related to getting students involved in community service. She mentioned the school-wide drive to collect food for Island Harvest and how in the past the drives were accomplished through individual clubs. Priyanka then explained how participating in Relay for Life was her introduction to volunteering. “I realized while it’s an annoying time commitment, the feeling you have afterward validated the time you spent.”
Cerqua noted that parents and kids have expressed that community service is an ever-increasing component in the college application process. Individual accomplishments help to set their children apart, the parents said.
“Manhasset students are outstanding young adults eager to volunteer and make a difference. They don’t view it as a chore, but a chance to give back to the community. And that sentiment, Cerqua said, emanates from the community.”
Maria Kostoulas and Sofia Yunakov, volunteers at the Island Harvest booth, happily related how coordinator Kim Cerqua wanted to attempt a schoolwide initiative instead of each individual group running an event for charity. Island Harvest has been selected for a schoolwide food drive. The Outpost, too, will donate a percentage of their profits to the charity, the women said. “Hunger affects 100,000 children on Long Island. Children go to bed hungry,” Kostoulas explained, “and the students can relate to that.”
Cecilia Coleman, Tuesday’s Children, said “We’re so close, almost across the street, and hope the kids will come to volunteer or raise funds to send kids to Project Common Bond. Resident Maureen Lavin, Tuesday’s Children volunteer herself, explained how she ran a marathon for the charity last year, became inspired and decided to help Tuesday’s Children with their athletic fundraising.
Mara Steindam, social studies coordinator, said she is proud to be a teacher here, and has been in Manhasset a total of 14 years, 10 as a teacher and 4 as coordinator. She has seen a paradigm shift in student volunteering, from an annoying obligation for graduation to a way of life. “Now,” she said, “it has become a welcome opportunity to gain personal satisfaction as opposed to simply fulfilling an obligation for graduation.”