As a member and student leader of the New Providence High School marching band, I have had the privilege of having Mr. Niedziejko as a band director, teacher and mentor. While our band is known for having much success at competitions, what Mr. Niedziejko really focused on throughout the marching band season was not how we could win, it was how we could become better people. I am sure that I am not the only student who would say that while we may have come out marching band as better musicians or with better knowledge of marching techniques, Mr. Niedziejko pushed us to be selfless above anything else.

This lesson is one that has impacted me beyond marching band or the classroom. This lesson has inspired me to take action through volunteer work.

Volunteering has played a key role in shaping me into the person I am today. As a somewhat shy young student, volunteering has given me the opportunity to work with a variety of people from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

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My experiences have been some of the greatest learning opportunities outside of the classroom and have helped me discover my strengths and weaknesses. Experiences like volunteering at the Home for Good Dogs in Berkeley Heights, sorting books for the Summit College Club Book Sale and working with the Pathways Cooks program have taught me useful technical skills and organizational skills that I can apply throughout my life.

Other volunteer opportunities including organizing fundraisers, advocacy projects and a tutoring program through Teens4Refugees helped me develop skills involving leadership and collaboration. Since founding the club this past August, I have overseen the fundraising, collection and purchasing of supplies that were sent to refugee camps in Greece through the organization Operation Refugee Child. Out of all of my activities, Teens4Refugees has pushed me out of my comfort zone the most as I presented slideshows about myths about refugees to other clubs at the school and as I worked with members of the school administration and community to facilitate the needs of refugees locally and internationally.

Teens4Refugees also allowed me to lead a group of New Providence High School students to work with refugees ages 3 to 18 for two to three hours every week as I have helped them learn English. These sessions helped me to make connections with people of different languages and cultures. Through my experiences writing articles for and hosting refugee guest speakers as part of Teens4Refugees and through participating in Relay for Life, I have learned how to advocate for issues that I am passionate about.

Learning to put the needs of others before my own needs through marching band is a lesson that has motivated me to not only to help out band members, but to make a positive impact on the community as well. Through their own selfless actions, teachers like Mr. Niedziejko and community leaders have taught me the importance of being charitable. I believe volunteering is essential to unite and lift up people in our communities no matter their race, gender, class, or beliefs. It has provided me with unique opportunities that have given me a more global perspective and taught me important life skills. For this reason, I hope to find volunteer opportunities throughout the rest of my life.