Oak Knoll School Offers Helping Hands to Communities in Need During Annual Service Day

Oak Knoll School students put their classes on hold Thursday, October 28, 2021, and instead served the community on and off campus to support area nonprofits — many of which are still short staffed due to COVID — during the school’s nearly 20-year tradition of helping others and communities in need during their annual Service Day. 

“Community service is one of our goals here at Oak Knoll School, so each year on Service Day we find new ways to give back to our surrounding neighbors in need,” said Selma Hannan, Upper School math teacher.

While Oak Knoll’s Service Day traditionally disperses many students, faculty, and staff off campus and into area organizations in need, this year the school organized projects off campus for juniors and seniors, while all other grades worked on campus to assemble care packages, friendship bracelets, dog toys, socks, rosary beads, cards, baby bibs and more.

On campus at the Lower School, students collected items and assembled packages to benefit the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless. Families from each grade level donated a variety of items so that pre-K and K could assemble 70 breakfast bags; grades 1 and 2 could assemble warm heart bags and decorate care socks; grades 3 and 4 could assemble personal-item kit bags, and grades 5 and 6 could assemble 56 hygiene bags for those in need.

A few towns over from Summit at the Willowwood Arboretum in Chester Township, Oak Knoll students worked with gardeners and staffers to plant bulbs, tulips, and alliums in preparation for spring. Students also pulled up dahlias and transferred them to indoor pots which would be moved indoors for the cold winter months ahead. 

Dylan Shapiro, a gardener at the Willowwood Arboretum, said this time of year is especially busy and they have recently been short staffed because of the pandemic. 

“Having the students’ extra hands here to help us do this so we can focus on everything that needs to happen before the first winter frost at the Arboretum has been a huge help,” he said. 

Mollie Ritter ’23 of Chatham said that giving back to others is important because students generally don’t realize how fortunate they are until they go out into the community and see the work that needs to be done.  

“We can sometimes get caught up in our own lives and it’s nice to have a day without classes or stress to actually put all our efforts into something that will help others rather than just ourselves,” she said.

At the Raptor Trust Bird Rehabilitation and Education Center in Long Hill Township, students raked approximately 10 yards of leaves throughout the center. 

Dylan Cobb, Raptor Trust’s Head of Maintenance, said that each year Oak Knoll School students are the unsung heroes of the Center.

Cobb explained that raking leaves is vital because it prevents the leaf build up in the bird cages and which causes molding. Rodents also hide under the leaves at night, Cobb said, so by removing the leaves it significantly cuts down on the rodent population, keeping the cages safe and clean. 

Senior Leslie Atahualpa ’22 of Newark, first volunteered at Raptor Trust on Service Day during her freshman year at Oak Knoll and said it was then that she fell in love with the birds and how beautiful the Rehabilitation and Education Center is.

“It’s very important especially at a Catholic school to have a well-rounded education – service is part of our mission and Service Day helps us to live and complete this mission,” said Abigail Whittall ’22 of Short Hills.

Oak Knoll juniors and seniors also assisted the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, Bridges Outreach in Summit and at the Reeves-Reed Arboretum in Summit. Back on campus after lunch, Upper School students also gave presentations to classes on various subjects, including justice issues and bias in the news. 

Students also had the opportunity to sit in on a virtual interview between Sarah Sicari, Upper School theology teacher and member of the Campus Ministry team, and Dr. Charlie Camosy, an Associate Professor of Theology at Fordham University in the Bronx. Camosey’s main focus was to enter into a dialogue with OKS students about the theme for the day, “Caring for God’s Creation.”  He is a professor of Ethics and Moral Theology who focuses his work on the “consistent ethic of life.”  He took questions and helped to explain the Catholic church’s stance and role on tackling climate change. 

“Setting aside a day of school for students to focus on community service allows us to live out our mission of faith, wisdom, and service, and it provides every student with the opportunity to serve their community and to learn about justice-related issues,” said Michele Van Kalsbeck, Upper School theology teacher and member of the Campus Ministry team. “This year’s theme for Service Day was ‘Care for God’s Creation’; so, students reflected on all the different ways they can act as stewards of creation,” she said. 

For more information about community service at Oak Knoll School, visit https://www.oakknoll.org/upper-school/faith-life/community-service/.