Giving Back

Madison High School Students Make New Connections with Seniors at Annual Day of Service

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Sophomore Natalie De La Luz uses a template to measure and cut out her t-cap. Credits: Lindsay Ireland
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On a table full of already completed hats, mannequins model t-caps to show students how they should fit. Credits: Lindsay Ireland
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MADISON, NJ—Sometimes we all need a helping hand; a friend to hold the other end of that heavy box, a relative to watch the dog while we’re on vacation, a neighbor to help rake the leaves.

Madison High School students Friday extended that helping hand in town through their annual Day of Service. About a dozen student volunteers spread out around town in teams to rake, clear branches, set up outdoor furniture and clean the homes of elderly residents who signed up for help.

At the Senior Center, another project was underway. A group of about 10 students gathered downstairs to make “t-caps.” The hats are given free of charge to patients at the Carol G. Simon Cancer Center, according to Madison High School teacher Marcia Prill, who oversaw Friday’s t-cap project.

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“Many of the ladies (at the Senior Center) volunteer there and give hats to people there getting treatment,” Prill said. “They always tell me they can never have enough.”

Some students were a little nervous when they first arrived at the Senior Center, Prill said, but by midday they were all huddled around sewing machines or poring over the measuring tables cutting fabric to make each hat.

“They’ve taken to it like a duck to water,” said Edna Ierley-Byrne, the center’s senior citizen coordinator. “They’re learning, and they’re really excited about it.”

Many of the seniors helped, too, and sat down to work with students as they sewed.

The high school’s day of service has been around for more than a decade, but students only recently started working with the Senior Center about five years ago thanks to Prill, who contacted the center about household-chore projects for the elderly.

Now, students not only have the opportunity to help seniors around the house, but they can also make connections with seniors at the center through the t-caps project, according to Ierley-Byrne, who on Monday will retire from her position at the Senior Center.

“That interaction sort of lowers the barrier between generations,” she said.

For seniors, the project is an “intergenerational opportunity to work with young kids and realize young kids aren’t the programs you see on TV,” she said. “They’re great kids; they’re willing to give, they care about their neighbors.”

The Day of Service is an annual community service effort of Madison High School students. Students sign up to participate in projects designed to meet various needs at district school and throughout the local community.

In past years students have eradicated invasive plant species at the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge headquarters, worked with young people at the Madison Junior School and elementary schools, at the Morris ARC and with the elderly at Brighton Gardens in Florham Park. Others painted murals in the CAS gym, prepared drawings for delivery by Color a Smile and led a basketball clinic at Cerebral Palsy of NJ Horizon High School.

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