WEST ORANGE, NJ - For the last decade, Golda Och Academy, in West Orange, has dedicated a day each year to give back to the local community. This year’s High School Community Service Day, held Jan. 20, was equally as successful. Serving 11 different locations, 150 GOA students in grades nine-12 worked with young children, special needs youth and adults, and senior citizens in addition to volunteering at food pantries, food banks and homeless outreach centers.
“This year marks our 10th annual Community Service Day, and each year we are so grateful for the work our high school students do to come together to support our community,” said Jordan Herskowitz, GOA’s director of student life. “This program is at the heart of GOA’s mission, helping us instill the value of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and gemilut chasadim (acts of loving kindness) in each and every one of our students.”
After selecting their top three choices, students were assigned to one of the program locations, which included Bridges Outreach, Canterbury Village, Livingston's Cerebral Palsy School of New Jersey (CPNJ), Children’s Institute in Livingston, Community FoodBank of New Jersey, East Orange Early Head Start, Harambee Community Development Initiative, Interfaith Food Pantry in Orange, Lester Senior Housing and Urban League of Essex County Daycare Center.
Eleventh grader Jamie Singer, who volunteered at the Interfaith Food Pantry, said, “I always look forward to Community Service Day. It is so nice to give back and to interact with people you typically don’t interact with on a day-to-day basis. I would really like to do it more often.”
GOA math teacher Janette Antiles chaperoned the Interfaith Food Pantry group, which was responsible for bagging items and distributing them to people who arrived.
“It was a great moment of pride as we watched the students do something so meaningful and perform such a wonderful mitzvah,” she said.
The timing of the day was also appreciated by many of the site directors as volunteer numbers tend to dwindle after the holiday season.
“This is a form of giving back we don’t see that often, especially around this time of year,” said Dr. Naima Dunkin, early childhood education director at the Urban League of Essex County Daycare Center.
At the center, GOA students helped create a hallway mural along with GOA art teacher Bethanie Watson.
“We are so grateful for this opportunity to have the high school students do this [mural] for us,” she said. “It gives a new, warm, welcoming feeling to our school.”
“Throughout the day, site coordinators expressed their appreciation for the student visits and noted what a wonderful job they were doing,” said Christine Stodolski, GOA’s Upper School principal. “Community Service Day is truly a natural extension of our students’ commitment to service and charity work.”
For some students, the day is an inspiration to continue their work outside of school. Senior David Shepard, for example, volunteers with Project Ezra, a community service organization that brings senior citizens in the Lower East Side of Manhattan to New Jersey, providing them with lunches and entertainment.
“The value of community service is preached at our school and is infused into the student body,” he said. “It’s an important part of who I am along with a feeling of responsibility to help others.”