Oak Knoll Community Dedicates Annual Service Day to Helping Neighbors in Need

oak knoll students during service day 2020The Oak Knoll School halls were buzzing today, bringing to life the phrase of their school’s founder Cornelia Connelly, “Actions, not words,” on Thursday, October 21, 2020, continuing a nearly 20-year tradition of helping others, during their annual Service Day.

This year, Oak Knoll School’s Good Samaritan Service Day focused on their neighbors in need in their community.

While Oak Knoll’s Service Day traditionally disperses students, faculty, and staff off campus and into area organizations in need, this year the school organized projects safely on campus for all 530 students, due to the COVD-19 pandemic.

In the Lower School, grades pre-K through grade 4 collected items and assembled packages to benefit the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless.

Grades pre-K and kindergarten students were busy collecting breakfast bags, while first and second grade classrooms personally wrapped “warm heart bags,” with bath items including nearly 400 socks decorated with hearts, wash clothes and bath towels.

Students in Alicia Grimes’s second grade class watched a video about the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless and discussed the importance of giving back to those in need.

“We want the homeless people to feel what we are feeling because we have more and they don’t have that much, said Laila Goode ’31 of Irvington. Her classmate Arabella Kauh ’31, of Berkeley Heights, added that we should treat others the way they want to be treated.

Oak Knoll’s third and fourth grade classrooms collected personal-item kit bags stocked with socks, toothbrushes, soap, and deodorant.

“All of our children see first-hand how they can make a difference on their own through Service Day and they’re all so excited to do that,” said Lower School Division Head Christine Spies.

“It’s a rough time for charities now and we had to tweak a few things this year, but we were so happy to be able to assist them through our projects today,” Spies said.

Lower school students in grades 5 and 6 dedicated their school day by creating “thinking of you” cards and posters and collected small donations of $5 for a young New Jersey girl currently undergoing cancer treatments.

Students included positive quotes and messages on the cards and will send to the patient in the coming months as she battles her many scheduled cancer treatments.

Up the hill on campus, the older grades were busy using their creativity to help others.

In various Upper School classrooms, students crafted cards, baby bibs, masks, made toys for shelter animals and constructed friendship bracelets for children who are in the hospital.

Seniors Molly McCann ’21, of Madison, and Flora Stanzak ’21, of Chatham, who run the Oak Knoll Friendship Club, organized a group of 100 students in grades 7-12 to make friendship bracelets in the Mother Mary Campion Center for the Performing Arts. The bracelets will be donated to sick children at Children’s Specialized Hospital in Mountainside, NJ.

“We wanted to make the children smile and to brighten their day in the midst of illness and sadness,” said McCann.

“Service has been part of both our lives and important for a really long time,” said Stanzak. “It’s also a fun way to give back and to meet people,” she said.

Upper School students also made bagged lunches in the cafeteria to be packed then donated to Bridges Outreach in Summit.

“For me, it’s always about giving back,” said Zohra Ismail, Upper School Dean of grades 10-12, who has been organizing donations to Bridges Outreach for the past 20 years.

The OKS Baking Club, who sporadically contributes to Bridges Outreach throughout the year is led by co-presidents Nora Quinn ’21, of Westfield, and Jodie De Jesus ’21, of Summit.

For Service Day, they organized their fellow bakers to make sweet treats for the bagged lunches.

“Service Day is always a tradition I always look forward to and this was nice to be a part of today and be able to contribute to those in need,” said De Jesus.

Quinn added that working with the Baking Club to serve others is also a fun way to get to know each other and share recipes.

Upper School students also tried something new this year by dedicating their class time to different “Teach-In” Zoom presentations about justice issues. Each session was led by Oak Knoll juniors.

Some of the topics discussed in the presentation and classrooms included food insecurity, immigration, racism, domestic violence, poverty in New Jersey, human trafficking, and refugees.

With the election just weeks away, students also participated in a presentation about one’s moral responsibility to vote.

In the afternoon, Upper School health and physical education teacher Mimi Hartnett and middle school students organized and collected non-perishable food donations for St. Theresa’s in Summit, then participated in a 1.5 mile Fun Run at Memorial Field led by the varsity cross country team.

Although service has always been a key mission and focus among the Oak Knoll community, the first organized Service Day dates to Spirit Week on February 8, 2002. This was the first time all Upper School students volunteered off campus for a half day at the Community Food Bank in Hillside, NJ. After 2011, Service Day became and continues to be a campus-wide effort and, instead of classes, faculty, staff, and students visit nonprofits most in need in their community.

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