MONTVILLE, NJ – Montville Township High School senior Jonathan Kraft was one of five northern New Jersey-area students to receive a $2,000 scholarship from Monk’s Home Improvements.
Students from 37 different high schools and universities applied for the fourth-annual service-based scholarship, according to Monk’s officials.
“Each year when we read through these scholarship applications, it forces us to lift our heads up, look outside our own world and see what else is going on,” said Ty Monk, Founder and President of Monk’s. “These are five people that saw something that needed to be done and decided to fix it themselves instead of waiting for someone to fix it for them.”
Kraft embarked on a service project in the summer of 2016 after learning that his grandparents’ home island of Lesvos, off the coast of Greece, had become a doorway into Europe for hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, plus other parts of the Middle East and Africa, he said in his acceptance speech at a dinner held for the winners on May 23.
Kraft, his family, and friends collected clothing and other items, and after connecting with two refugee aid organizations, Light House Relief and SAO, brought their items to Lesvos.
There were two problems on the island, Kraft said.
“The first issue was that tens of thousands of refugees in the camps on the island needed housing, food, and clothing while waiting to be processed by the European Union,” he said. “Secondly, tourism was down on the island to about a third of its normal levels, putting a huge strain on an already-struggling local economy heavily dependent on tourism.”
Kraft and his friend cleaned the beaches in an effort to help revive the lagging tourism, and learned how the refugees were processed. They also worked in a donation warehouse, organizing and filling clothing orders for the refugee camps.
Kraft said he became very emotional when he was cleaning the beach and found a baby’s pink sock, because it hit home that these were families, looking for safety above all.
“At that moment I felt such a deep frustration that our nation isn’t doing more to welcome, house, and protect the refugees,” he said.
Kraft said it is still very important to him to spread the word about the crisis as much as he possibly can.
“From here in America, donations are always needed for clothing and food beyond the basic rice and fruit meals given in the camps,” he said. “And of course, all over Lesvos and other parts of Eastern Europe, volunteer work is always needed on the ground.”
He hopes to be able to return to Lesvos some day to help out, but hopes that the civil war will play out.
In the meantime, “I pray for a brighter tomorrow in which these refugees can return to the place they call home,” he said.
Kraft will be attending Yale University in the fall.
The other recipients were Jenna Berger of Florham Park, Adrian Lam of Westfield, Bradley Levin of Warren and Ellie Rogoff of Summit.