LIVINGSTON, NJ — A group of Livingston High School students who share a common goal of improving the lives of as many people as possible through social outreach are currently carrying out multiple community service projects to benefit a variety of local causes.

Through an entirely student-led non-profit dubbed the Livingston Youth Organization for Human Services (LYOHS), the teens recently hosted a highly successful Fortnite tournament fundraiser for the COVID-19 treatment center at Saint Barnabas that prompted a follow-up tournament to be held later this summer with a new benefactor. This time, the tournament will raise funds for Campaign Zero, an organization working to reduce police brutality in America.

Simultaneously, the group is hosting an ongoing project to collect essential learning resources K-12 students in the Newark school district.

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“Summer is very different for everyone this year,” said LYOHS President Matthew Zhang. “Many camps, vacations, and activities that our board members would’ve done in-person have been canceled due to COVID-19. With so much more time on our hands, there are lots of different things we can do. But there was one thing that we all wanted to achieve with our time: ramping up our organization’s community service events to help those in need as much as possible.”

LYOHS Chairman Harris Rosenthal explained that the student volunteers were "leveraging their demographic" when they decided to host a videogame tournament that enabled them to purchase and deliver $260 worth of hot food trays to the healthcare workers at Saint Barnabas earlier this month. Rosenthal personally delivered the meals along with Zhang and LYOHS members Jake Fersko and Zach Feldman.

“Our original intention was to virtually donate the money to Saint Barnabas; but then we realized that a bigger impact could be made if we purchased food and subsidized a local, small business along the way,” said Anuvik Das, service coordination executive for LYOHS.

Joining Zhang, Rosenthal and Das on the LYOHS Board of Directors, which is made up of all rising sophomores, are Kisan Bava (Chief Financial Officer), Rishab Bamzai (Creativity Director) and Raghav Ladda (Chief Operating Officer).

In a group statement, the board members explained that they knew a Fortnite fundraiser would garner significant interest because of their supporters are teenagers who are interested in gaming. A video game tournament also seemed a logical avenue for fundraising because it's something teens can do safely at home during a health crisis.

For the next tournament, Zhang said the group selected Campaign Zero as the benefactor because it addresses "a current problem that has become increasingly prevalent."

“Cases of police violence targeted against minority populations in the U.S. saw a large spike this year,” said Zhang. “Since social justice is another big cause that the LYOHS advocates for, we decided to act by supporting Campaign Zero's efforts of developing policy solutions for decreasing police brutality.”

For other community members who may not be interested in gaming but are looking for ways to give back, the LYOHS board reiterated that the K-12 learning resources drive “is an extremely worthy cause because it will directly assist underprivileged students in the Newark School District.”

“These students currently face large financial barriers to accessing high-quality education,” said Zhang. “They lack the ability to afford school supplies that are essential for facilitating productive and effective learning.”

Noting that these are the citizens “hit hardest by the world's biggest issues due to a lack of resources and opportunities,” Zhang explained that one of the primary missions of the LYOHS is to “fight socio-economic inequality by assisting the citizens left behind by society.”

“Even in New Jersey, giant wealth gaps exist between communities like Livingston and Newark,” he said. “However, we believe that attaining a quality education is the foundation for people's ability to create opportunities for themselves. Thus, by collecting spare learning resources from residents of Livingston and donating them to Newark students, we are taking one step closer towards closing the big wealth gap between our two communities.”

On behalf of his fellow volunteers, Zhang concluded that their decision to “address the financial barriers preventing Newark students from attaining higher levels of education” is also in line with their mission to expand the ways in which LYOHS assists the local community.

In order to continue expanding their initiatives, however, the LYOHS needs additional support and participation from their peers. LYOHS members are encouraging students across the community “to take initiative and make a difference as well.”

“We, the LYOHS, are ultimately a group of high-school students; but we stand for the idea that even students can make a difference for the community in times of need, such as this ongoing pandemic,” the LYOHS board said in a joint statement. “Our projects are merely ideas or plans without the involvement of other people. The more awareness and support our initiatives gain, the more impactful they become on the lives of those in need.”

Details about the upcoming Fortnite tournament, to be scheduled for mid-August, are forthcoming and will be shared on the LYOHS Instagram page (@livingston-yohs), Facebook page (Livingston Yohs) and website (https://www.livingstonyohs.org/). 

A list of items being collected as part of the K-12 learning resources drive—which includes reading books as well as typical school supplies such as notebooks, writing utensils and more—can be found in the photos above. To obtain a list of drop-off locations in Livingston, contact LYOHS at livingstonyohs@gmail.com or 973-535-0866 (text or call). 

Those who prefer to make a monetary donation can do so via Venmo (@Livingston-YOHS) or BY CLICKING HERE to visit the GoFundMe page that has been established for this purpose. All proceeds will be used toward the purchase of school supplies.

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