McGalliard School fourth grader Kira Kook was on a vacation in South Carolina last summer when she discovered a new hobby: making teddy bears. Kira wanted to make a few teddy bears for children in need and thought the best place to donate the teddy bears would be a hospital. However, Kira learned the hospital did not take them due to sanitary reasons. Kira and her mother met with the volunteer coordinator at Home Front, an agency that provides housing and rent assistance as well as educational and employment opportunities to homeless individuals and families. The coordinator agreed that they could use Kira’s bears in the temporary housing units where families come to stay when they do not have a home.
Kira created her own agency called, “Kira Kares.” Her mission is to continue collecting money so that she can buy materials to make more bears to be given to Home Front. She wears the “Kira Kares” t-shirt out in the community and provides an explanation and a business card to anyone who asks her about it. Outside of “Kira Kares,” Kira herself is a very caring person in her daily life at school. She understands interpersonal relationships well and asks for assistance before conflicts become unpleasant or inappropriate.
Alaniza Peralta, a 5th grade student at Antheil Elementary School, has completed numerous humanitarian efforts throughout her elementary school career. She has volunteered her lunch time and recesses to assist and mentor individual students who have Autism. She serves on the Helping Hands Club Student Advisory Board where she gives up all Friday lunches and recess times to fill 48 backpacks with food and to distribute them to children who might otherwise go hungry over the weekends. She has even taken a new child from Bangladesh under her wing.
Ali has rallied the whole school, students, staff, and administration to inspire hope and humor to one of her friends diagnosed with Leukemia. She organized the sale of bright orange bracelets, the color of Leukemia Awareness, to help defray the costs of cancer treatments for her friend’s family. Ali organizes who will visit her and when, to make sure her friend knows what support she has. Ali’s own positive attitude and proactive friendship skills play into her friend’s upbeat way of handling her cancer.
Kayla, a senior at Hamilton High School West, was instrumental in reviving the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) that had lapsed in activity prior to her start at West. Since then our school’s GSA is well-attended and thriving. She is at the forefront of everything we do, never seeming to run out of energy for the cause. She created and maintains a Facebook page devoted to our GSA as well as LGBT news and events. She also spearheaded an effort for GSA members to partner with out local Municipal Alliance Against Substance Abuse to provide volunteer facepainters at local events including Harvest Day and Septemberfest. For GSA activities or supplies she often spends her own money.
Kayla displays her kindness and generosity in other ways, too. She is the first to donate to charitable causes whenever asked by fellow classmates. She helped to raise funds from classmates when Haiti was devastated by an earthquake in 2010 and when Japan was hit by a typhoon and earthquake last year. Over the years Kayla’s work has made our school climate much more tolerant and safe, especially for LGBT students and their allies. She has pledged to keep an eye on our GSA when she is at Mercer County Community College next year.
For the past five years, Lawrenceville Elementary School (LES) has had a team of students and staff shave their heads for pediatric cancer research through St. Baldricks. First grader Reilly Cahill is a standout from team LES. It was Reilly’s first opportunity to have his head shaved and to seek donations for this important cause. He has raised $2,945.00. Reilly’s bravery to have his head shaved and his tenacity to raise such a huge amount of money is truly significant.
For the past ten years, Lawrenceville Elementary School (LES) has helped to sponsor a trip of Operation Smile’s Christine Stockton to Kenya by donating toothbrushes, clips, gently-used t-shirts, soccer balls, etc. When Ms. Stockton takes her annual trip, she also brings patient tags decorated by all of the children of LES. This year, however, she had additional boxes of new books to bring to the children in Kenya, thanks to second grader Sara Kuwar.
Sara was a student new to LES in September, and when she celebrated her birthday in October, she decided that instead of presents for her, she asked her guests to bring a new book to be donated to Operation Smile for a child in Kenya. Her guests were eager to comply, so the heavy boxes were shipped to Kenya prior to Ms. Stockton’s departure.
Tyrek Ware, a 7th grade student at Monument School, is an incredibly positive role model for his peers and the younger students who attend Monument. He encourages his friends to do better and he is a supportive friend. Tyrek attends a weekly boys’ group. The current curriculum is focused on Gay and Lesbian issues and how to be more compassionate to people who are different than ourselves. Tyrek is quite comfortable with the topic and has been open and willing to discuss the sensitive issues to this information. Tyrek has shown great compassion and explained how he was able to offer support to a friend who is currently closeted. Tyrek stated that he is willing to help this friend by being a good listener and not judging him.
Tyrek also participates in a program called Minding our Business, which is held after school two times per week. He has learned good business and entrepreneurial skills. Tyrek is a humanitarian in the truest sense of the word. He helps others without expecting anything in return.
Alex Robb, a 7th grader at Crockett Middle School, single handedly organized, from start to finish, a pet food drive at the school. He collected over 220 pounds of dog food, cat food, treats and toys. All were donated to a shelter he spends time volunteering at. Monetary donations, collected from the staff, were donated for other supplies such as towels, shampoo and medication. Of his own initiative, Alex made life a bit easier for many poor souls unable to help themselves.
This spring, the school was collecting Easter baskets for military families who had a parent overseas and who were unable to share the holiday with their family. Alex saw that his homeroom seemed to lack enthusiasm with the project. Instead of being discouraged, Alex asked his mother (a school teacher at another school) and asked them to donate items. One day, Alex walked into school with an enormous crate of Easter candy, grass, baskets and eggs. With his help, we were able to supply 25 Easter baskets to the military and still have enough leftover to provide baskets for a local elementary school. Alex never stops trying to come up with ways to help others. He has a phenomenal outlook on life and he does not allow himself to get discouraged by others’ apathy.
Health Science Academy
Students at the Health Science Academy remarked early in their freshman year that they were impressed by the diversity of the Academy. They wanted to create an event that would bring students of all shapes, sizes, colors, faiths and abilities together in celebration. They wanted to generate unity out of what are considered in many places to be dividing factors, and that is exactly what they did. These agents of change established their school’s first annual HAS Cultural Day. They were determined to create an event that would honor their differences and allow every student to share what makes him or her a unique and special member of our community. They then assigned roles to members of their class so that the event would be entirely student-run.
The day of the event was remarkable; students brought in cultural dishes to share, presented slideshows educating their classmates about their individual cultures, and some even dressed in traditional cultural garb. Students of all cultures mingled and discussed the particulars of their family traditions while their new, wide-eyed friends listened attentively. Our students have done something innovative with their Cultural Day event: rather than advocating tolerance alone, they have embraced their differences and used them as a conduit for unity. They believe that culture and the exceptionalities that come with it are the keys to overcoming the separations that occur when cultural differences are not understood. Through education and the sharing of food at their event, they pique the interest of their peers and highlight the things that make one another special, shining a bright, beautiful light on each and every individual. That said, it is only appropriate that they have chosen the following motto for their Academy: Together, we can change the future.
Christian Devine and Hannah Devine
Christian Devine, 5th grade, and Hannah Devine, 4th grade, are a brother and sister duo that attend Alexander Elementary School. They both suffer from a severe peanut allergy and have to carry EPI-pens with them at all times. Having learned to deal with this challenge from an early age has made them aware of the importance of supporting others that also face difficulties in life. That is why they have been involved in various fundraisers throughout the years. They feel it is their mission to help others.
Christian and Hannah have been involved in fundraising for the Food Allergy Network and also in raising awareness of the dangers of allergies in general. This positive experience has led them to help fundraise for many other organizations including Toys for Tots and to collect food items for the St. Greg’s food bank. Christian and Hannah have also become avid Ryan’s Quest supporters and have participated and helped to organize fundraises and to raise awareness for that organization. In fact, in lieu of birthday gifts, Christian and Hannah often ask their friends and relatives to donate money to Ryan’s Quest. Perhaps the following quote from Hannah best sums up how the Devine children feel about the importance of being humanitarians: “I am so happy that people created the Food Allergy Network, an organization that raises money to help kids like my brother and me. I want to help others that need help and this is my way of saying ‘thank you.’ It makes me happy to see others smile.”
Amrit Sahota, Rhea Bakshi, and Robert Kaminski
The students of Princeton Charter School in grades kindergarten through fourth participated in Heifer International’s “Read to Feed” program. Students get pledges from family and friends for each book they read. The money collected provides families in need throughout the world with a live animal and training in animal care, community development and earth-friendly farming practices. The animal provides many benefits to the family in terms of food, wool, fertilizer, and draft power. Students in each class decided what animals, such as goats, rabbits, chickens, ducks, sheep and cows, they would like to fund as gifts.
The third grade students of Princeton Charter School picked a daunting goal of an “ark,” which is two of each kind of animal at a contribution amount of $5,000. Three enterprising students, Amrit Sahota, Rhea Bakshi, and Robert Kaminski, realized the collection effort would need help and arranged to have two healthy snack sales after school to raise additional money. They designed their own posters, posted them, arranged for snacks and healthy baked items to be donated, arranged for the help of two faculty members, manned the sale, collected the money and counted it. Although they did not make enough to purchase an ark, these caring students raised over $500 toward the class goal almost completely on their own. They money they have raised, together with their classmates collected pledges will buy a lot of animals to help many families throughout the world.
Heifer International Fundraisers
These students consistently demonstrate extraordinary kindness to their fellow classmates and teachers on a daily basis. Besides their daily demonstration of great character, this year, they have started their own, yet to be titled, non-profit company. Deciding they wanted to help people around the world, this group of enterprising students decided to raise money for Heifer International.
Through their making and selling of origami by going door to door in their neighborhoods, the students have raised well over $300. They have also established roles within their ‘company’ of head designer, designer, treasurer, and makers. Future plans for a website and selling more origami at “Communiversity,” an upcoming community fair in Princeton, are in the works.
For more than 25 years Kathy Jensen, a school counselor at Lawrenceville Elementary School, “works tirelessly to insure that children are provided a nurturing environment and offered the opportunity and support to demonstrate good character” according to her principal, Judith Bronston. She is pivotal to the many community service activities of the school as well. For example, she started a club at LES called CARE KIDS, CARE stands for Children Acting Responsibly Everyday. The Care Kids are students who volunteer to participate in community service activities such as a Thanksgiving food drive, creation of holiday placemats for Meals on Wheels, distribution of calendars to area nursing home residents and deliveries to WomanSpace of items collected for Mother’s Day, just to name a few. In addition to organizing several service learning projects, Jensen also developed a program called LESter’s Shining Stars in which she makes a poster about students who are recognized for their random acts of kindness.
Because of her leadership and individual efforts, LES is a caring and positive environment where students grow emotionally and intellectually. It is a place where everyone is respected and each child is valued for who they are as individuals. Kathy works hard to teach young children to become compassionate and kind individuals. Kathy is key to the team at LES that gives their diverse students, those from high economic status and those from the lowest economic status, leveled opportunities to achieve in a caring nurturing environment.
Joyce Pereira and Jane Baitzel
Joyce Pereira of Fisher Middle School and Jane Baitzel of Parkway Elementary School work with children who do not speak or write English well enough to function on their own in the schools. Over time it had become clear to them that Ewing families were experiencing hardships because of the recent financial downturn—they would hear from their students that parents had lost jobs and kids were hungry, that families were in danger of losing their homes. They wanted to find a way to help families in the community and to involve their students and colleagues. So, they decided to create an “Open Closet,” collecting used clothing from staff at all five Ewing Schools with the intention of making it available to Ewing families at a shopping extravaganza. Teachers, students, and community members brought in thousands of clothing items.
The day before the big shopping day, a number of students in the ESL program stayed after school to carry bags to the cafeteria and sort clothing; their names are Shanice Bryan, Nikhil Yadav, Angie Loor, Gloria Hammond, Benita Hamilton, Larence Joseph, Odney Guerrier, Daury St. Fleur, Ciana Montero. Students from The College of New Jersey fraternity, Alpha Chi Rho, and from the sorority, Theta Phi Alpha, also came to help and the Fisher Food Pantry made boxes and boxes of groceries available. Shopping day was a true extravaganza- by the end of the day, all the clothing and all the food was gone. It would be hard to exaggerate how important this effort was to the people of Ewing who expressed their gratitude over and over.
Wanda Rinker, 6th grade science teacher at Community Middle School, approached the counselors about introducing a character-building assembly program to the school. Ms. Rinker has been personally involved with the Travis Manion Foundation of Doylestown, PA, an organization started by a family member after they lost their only son during his second tour in Iraq. The organization’s mission is to challenge the living to honor those who gave their lives in service to our country by doing the right thing. Ms. Rinker’s passion for the Foundation’s mission compelled her to bring their message to the students and adults at the school. Three counselors and Ms. Rinker assembled with three administrators and two other teachers, and planning was underway for a new, school-wide program at CommUNITY Middle School centered around the Manion Foundation’s “Character Does Matter” program.
Following Ms. Rinker’s proposal and behind-the-scenes organization, in November 2011, Ryan Manion Borek of the Travis Manion Foundation presented kick-off assemblies for the 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. The assemblies introduced our new school theme, “If Not Me, Then Who?” by challenging our students to “look for the moments in their lives where they can do good- to recognize both big and small decisions as opportunities to stand up for others, defend what’s right, and help those around to encourage each and every person to ask themselves “IF NOT ME, THEN WHO…’” Ms. Rinker talks about how through her work with the foundation, her goal to ignite her students’ interest in Science has evolved into a desire to leave a more significant legacy to all children; Ms. Rinker wants to be a part of shaping young adolecents’ character and moral actions.
Pro bono edit by Robin Levinson