Students at Cornwell Avenue School in West Hempstead are helping 20 local families enjoy Thanksgiving this year, with the school’s Girls on the Run group and Student Council working together to collect donations of non-perishable food.
“We’re really trying to teach our kids the value of supporting your community while teaching them how it feels to help others,” said Elyssa Mayer, the school’s psychologist. “We’re also trying to teach them that there are many things to [be] grateful for.”
Girls on the Run is a nonprofit educational program that works with girls as young as 8 to develop self-respect and healthy lifestyles through interactive lessons. “We think that’s really important to foster that at such a young age, so that when they’re faced with adversity when they’re getting older, they’re prepared,” said Elizabeth Lindner, the school’s social worker. “It’s a more proactive approach in setting them up for success.”
Lindner said that it has been a rewarding experience to see the growth in the program during its first year. Each week, she said, the girls reflect on previous sessions, using the knowledge they have gained to support others. She added that because of the school district’s grade-restructuring, which took effect this year — with Cornwell Avenue now housing students for grades one to three — many of the children met for the first time. Lindner said she hoped that as the students got to know one another, that would foster more interaction in the program’s collaborative projects.
Third-grader Emma Pearlman, who donated pasta and macaroni and cheese, said that while she enjoys the activities, she understands how important the program is. “People need food to survive, and they’ll need some money, too,” Emma, 8, said.
A classmate, 8-year-old Helen Sanchez, said that the group hopes to help the homeless, and that because of the program, she has learned a great deal about the struggles they face. “Some of them have to sleep on the ground, they don’t have houses, and they only have one pair of clothes,” Helen said. “It feels really good to give back because after you give . . . you feel very good about yourself.”
Cornwell Avenue Principal Deanna Sinito said that seeing the efforts of West Hempstead High School’s Key Club, which annually holds a Thanksgiving drive of its own, has been an inspiration for their program. “It’s very nice that we’re starting so young and teaching life skills through this project,” Sinito said. “It makes them feel that they have a personal responsibility in finding ways to help others.”
One of the most exciting parts of this project, Mayer said, was to see the enthusiasm and leadership of the girls who took part in the drive. “It’s heartwarming to see them giving back,” Mayer said. “This community activism has given them a sense of purpose.”
In addition, Cornwell Avenue’s Girls on the Run team will coordinate a new holiday campaign in December, “The Giving Kids.” Students will collect various donations through December to support the needs of the West Hempstead community. Besides volunteering to give up something for one week that is meaningful to them, students will also give a monetary donation to community members in need. Students will vote on which organization receives the donations, with Lindner and Mayer approving the decision. The class with the most donations will win a class party to celebrate its involvement.