“When you learn, teach. When you get, give.”

 - Maya Angelou

MAHOPAC, N.Y. - These words apply to no one better than Jennifer Degl, Mahopac High School science teacher and mother of four, author and renowned public speaker.

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Degl and students of her ninth- and 10th-grade Honors earth science class and 11th- and 12th-grade global environmental issues class, collected about 150 toys for the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital in Valhalla.  Not only was this a lesson in giving, but it also offered a perspective on the precious gift of life.

In 2012, Degl’s daughter was born at 23 weeks’ gestation. Weighing just 1 pound, 4 ounces and 11 3/4-inches long, her baby girl was born at the cusp of viability.  Maria Fereri’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) became a second home for the Degls. The more her daughter thrived in the NICU, the stronger her bond and appreciation grew for the work of the nurses and doctors. As a result, she initiated the NICU Parent-Mentor Program for which her entire family volunteers.

“We also have a large team called From Hope to Joy’ that walks at the “Go the Distance” walk each year and we typically raise between $5,000 and $10,000 for the hospital,” Degl said. 

On each day of Hanukkah and on Christmas Day, Maria Fareri gives each hospitalized child, and their siblings, a box of toys.  And for the past five years, Degl has organized her MHS students to help with the giving.

This year, much of the high school community was involved: the custodial staff provided the large boxes that were decorated and used for delivering toys; the German Club donated advent calendars; high school principal Dr. Mathew Lawrence provided the transportation and her students provided the toys. 

On one of December’s rare sunny mornings, Degl and her student volunteers arrived at the hospital and were immediately greeted by staff which gave the students an overview of what they do and the kinds of patients and conditions treated there.  The neonatologist who treated Degl’s daughter personally escorted the students to the NICU. The students were able to tour the NICU and see first-hand the babies who are treated there. They also got to speak to some of the NICU nurses and physicians.

This experience Degl provided to her students truly represents the Mahopac High School’s core values of compassion, resilience, problem-solving and risk-taking. 

Article provided by Mahopac School District/Laura Lee Holmbo