BLOOMFIELD, NJ--Giving back to a community, especially in these difficult times, requires an effort from many. And in Bloomfield, a group of teenagers from Bloomfield High are doing their part to keep senior citizens' spirits thriving.
The Bloomfield High School cheerleading squad, led by senior captain Anna Haraka, are a part of Glamour Gals, a non-profit which inspires conversation and companionship through complimentary beauty makeovers provided by teenagers to seniors living in residential care.
Haraka, the daughter of Laura and Robert Haraka, will attend Cornell University this fall to study business and finance. She first learned about Glamour Gals, after attending a Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership Foundation, which provides lifelong leadership development opportunities that empower youth to achieve their highest potential, and gain knowledge of leadership skills.
With the help of cheerleading advisor Danielle Christiano, Haraka began a local chapter of Glamour Gals, and is the chapter's president. Many BHS student-athletes, students and cheerleaders became a part of the organization, and the students chose the Job Haines Home, in Bloomfield, where some good friendships were established with senior citizens.
"It's been a great experience," said Haraka, who is president of the Bloomfield chapter. "We have a good group of students involved here in Bloomfield. There are about 60 members, with a core group of 20 girls. We've made some great friends at Job Haines Home."
The students would visit as often as possible and provide much-needed friendship to, mostly women, who receive hair and nail beauty makeovers.
In mid-March of 2020, the Coronavirus pandemic hit, and with it, the one-on-one contact dissipated, especially since the virus can be devastating to the elderly.
Haraka knew something else had to be done to keep the lines of communication open.
"I thought a letter writing campaign would work," Haraka recalled. "I talked to Glamour Gals National, and it all came together."
Haraka's letter writing campaign is entitled the 'My Dear Friend Letter Writing Campaign'.
The Glamour Gals 'Plan of Action', in the wake of the Coronavirus, reads as follows. It was written by Haraka.
"Being a Glamour Gal (GG) is an amazing, rewarding experience. Every day promoting the GG movement is a day full of charity and kind-spirited assistance to others. However, during this time of widespread chaos over the Coronavirus, it feels like there is nothing you can do to help.
"With all nursing homes closed for visitation, my chapter is left feeling useless. I worry about the senior citizens that I hold so dearly in my heart, and pray for their health daily. I selfishly worry that I may have already spent my last hours in the nursing home for my time as president. But during a time like this, sadness and anger lack productivity. What creates progress is action and passion. Now is a time to support our seniors more than ever. As a chapter leader, I am determined to find a way to raise spirits in our elderly community.
"Being out of school and unable to obtain many resources is an added difficulty, but it is just one obstacle that we will overcome as a chapter. We are all scared and anxious, but it is our duty as Glamour Gals to find a way to support our senior citizens. Although no one has all of the answers now, we will persevere and work hard to.come out of these tough times. As a community we are strong, and with an active GG movement, we are stronger."
Haraka reported her letter writing progress to BHS athletic director Steve Jenkins.
"Bloomfield was the first chapter to participate, and we piloted the process for other chapters to follow in our footsteps. I’ve spent hours over the break on video calls and Instagram live videos, helping other chapters get involved. We've sent over 500 letters across the country so far."
The emotions of not spending the usual quality time with the locals at Job Haines Home wasn't lost on Haraka. She discussed seeing her friend, Ellie, at Job Haines, but through protective plexi glass, in a touching Facebook post about the letter writing campaign.
"It was definitely emotional to see Ellie and have to see her through a window. It's just crazy. I never thought I would experience something like this, in my lifetime. And Ellie didn't, either. She told us all about her experience living in the Great Depression. She is so hopeful that the next time we see her, this will be all over. She's so hopeful and so happy, and has such high spirits."
The letter writing process is ongoing. Glamour Gals is asking the public to join in its campaign, through its website (www.glamourgals.org). Glamour Gals is also designing a coloring book, with pictures based on actual photos from Glamour Girls meetups, for each chapter that is involved with the campaign.
The Executive Board of Bloomfield's Glamour Gals consists of Anna Haraka, President & Founder, Rosa Marfia and Jacqueline Drucker, Vice Presidents, Felicia Cochran, Treasurer, Ciara Berutti and Arianna Costantino Public Relations Officers and Danielle Christiano, Advisor.
With Haraka set to graduate high school in a few months, a new president will be named for the 2020-2021 school year.
The dedicated senior volunteers are Delyse Howard, Kayla Lesko, Nicole Trucios, Mikaela Benkert, Caroline Vigna, Amanda Giunta and Melanie Hidalgo.
The volunteers also include Lindsey Sorrentino, Dannyella Lacsa, Jaida Petrillo, Taylor Sconiers, Megan Freeman, Lindsay Wittner, Jsamyra Smith, Sabrina Vitella, Jaylin Felix, Angellina Ramos, Isabella Di Vito, Casey Dolan, Joelle Gonnella, Ally Reyes, Taylor McCloud, Alpha Wendi, Robin Morales, Sara Bojorque, Sherry Manalansan, Rachel Maldonado, Julie Freiling, Chase Elias, Luciana Rubino, Jordyn Laiacona, Chiara Hilario, Demetria Glennon, Nickolina Nasce, Darlene Espinoza, Leah Ali, Sani Cummings, Emily Tice, Emily Haraka, Elainna Hodge, Aniela Soja, Sofia Rojas, Jaylin Matias, Sofia Castro, Sasha Ruiz, Kira Pipkins, Janiya Angoy, Camila Andrade, Kaitlyn Toro and Demala Rampertab.
There are also a number of males in the program. Members of the 'Glamour Guys' include Anthony Rizzi ,Josh Costomiris, Peter Kuo, Tyler Batori, Jacob Perez, Parmesh Rabindradat, Adam Velin, Michael Bsales, Nikkoli Samonte, Jaden Referente, Jonah Clarin, Vincent Santangelo, Lucas Olaya, Joseph Sultan, Luca Ponticello amd Justin Delgado.
"I unofficially named them the 'Glamour Guys'," said Haraka. "They've come to the nursing home for the past two years on Valentine’s Day, to distribute cards, flowers, and jewelry, room-to- room, in the home, and spend time with the senior ladies. The woman in the home love it!"