Nearly 500 Blair students, teachers and staff members assembled throughout the area on the morning of May 17 to serve with area nonprofits on the School's sixth-annual Day of Service. Working in teams, Blair community members took on 24 individual projects that addressed needs including translating documents, animal welfare, environmental conservation and much more, all in an effort to make a difference.
Noting that this year’s program was slightly different in that volunteers were involved in new kinds of project work, including bringing an outside nonprofit group to campus, Day of Service organizers Joanne Brandwood and Kaye Evans were pleased to see so many in the school community excited about giving back to the community.
“It’s important for our community to give back, and stepping away from academics, the arts and athletics to focus on the needs of those around you exposes our students to volunteering,” said Mrs. Brandwood, who teaches history and coordinates Blair’s Service Corps activities with English teacher Mrs. Evans. “Often this day is what sparks a lifelong career of service in a lot of Blair students.”
A Personal Story of Change
The day kicked off with an all-school assembly at which Fran Held, founder and executive director of the Mitzvah Circle Foundation, motivated students with her story of starting a nonprofit. Ms. Held started the Mitzvah Circle Foundation to provide hope and restore dignity to individuals and families during times of crisis, poverty, homelessness and serious illness. “It only takes a small act of service to kickstart a chain reaction of change,” Ms. Held said.
Ms. Held discussed the needs of those whom her organization helps, noting the most frequent requests include simple necessities. She then surveyed the room, asking students how many took these basic necessities for granted, such as pillows or soap. “It’s often these most basic things that allow parents to go to work and students to go to school. Without baby diapers or clothing parents can't go to work and children can't attend daycare. By providing these basic necessities to families, lives are transformed.”
Ms. Held concluded with a message of inspiration for students about their actions after this day. “Each of you has the power to make a difference in the world, find your inspiration to serve and keep hold of it.”
Expanding Across the Region
Following the assembly, students, faculty, staff and parents dispersed for their project work, some of whom traveled as far as Scranton, Pa, and included initiatives sponsored by Blairstown Township.
This year’s activities involved a new service project, which brought residents of SCARC to campus for a day of activities. Based in Sussex County, N.J., SCARC is a non-profit organization committed to working within our communities to meet the challenges of supporting and working with individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. Led by associate dean of students Andee Ryerson and director of academic support Allison Leddy, guests were welcomed to Hardwick Hall and played games on the turf field, swam in the pool and hiked around Blair’s campus. The day concluded with a dance party, led by director of vocal music Ryan Manni.
“The SCARC project was an unbelievable success, and I am so proud of everyone who was a part of building this project for the first time.” Ms. Brandwood remarked at the next School Meeting. “I believe this is the start of a long running Day of Service tradition that will impact lives for years to come.”
When all the buses and vans returned to campus, the community came together again to relax and enjoy one another's company at a barbecue dinner. Both Mrs. Brandwood and Head of School Chris Fortunato shared words of gratitude later that evening, with Mr. Fortunato reflecting that serving others and doing good work is about the choices and dedication to change we make throughout our lives.
“After six years, the Day of Service has become one of the best Blair traditions our students can experience, one that demonstrates the greatest of what it means to be a part of this amazing community,” Mrs. Brandwood said.