Calhoun High's Racial Equity Club spreads ‘Hope Project’ for Haiti across the district

Students raise $3,800 over several months


When Sanford H. Calhoun High School’s Racial Equity Club began the Hope Project to benefit Haiti last September, at the beginning of the school year, one thing was clear: Despite the fact that the project kicked off at Calhoun, students hoped and planned for it to gain enough momentum to become a districtwide effort.

On the heels of a 111-day long educational fundraiser that officially concluded in early January, project participants happily point out that their project did just that. Thanks to a collaborative effort involving every school in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District, the Hope Project raised over $3,800 for the nonprofit Hope for Haiti. Those who took part, club members said, came out of the experience with a deeper understanding of Haitian culture and values.


Project beginnings

Nickolas Mascary, a junior and a club officer, came up with the idea for the project last summer, and brought it to the rest of the club. Mascary is of Haitian descent, and having traveled to the country several times when he was younger, he was inspired to help its people, who have been severely tested by years of natural disasters and political unrest.

“I saw how resilient the country is,” Mascary, 16, told the Herald in October, “because they bounced back from these situations, and they still manage to have a really cool, amazing culture.”

Initial fundraising efforts began quickly, he explained, with several events in September and October. In November, the Equity Club visited Merrick Avenue Middle School, where they discussed the project and, with a stranded-on-a-desert-island exercise, helped students appreciate how many Haitians lack the basics for survival. They visited Grand Avenue Middle School in Bellmore in December.

At Calhoun, “Jean Day,” in November, was popular among the teaching staff. “Any teacher was able to donate $5 in order to dress down — or wear jeans for the day,” Mascary said. “So many teachers were involved with that, and they loved it so much.”


Spreading beyond Calhoun

The Equity Club wanted not only to involve schools in the Central District, but also to educate Bellmore-Merrick’s elementary districts. On Nov. 23, club members visit all three North Merrick schools, where they talked with students about gratitude and leadership, and about Haiti.

Ayana Mascary, Nickolas’s twin sister, said she believed the elementary program was a great success. “They were very engaged in the conversation,” she said of the students. “Most of them wanted to answer questions, and basically have that conversation with us.

“We had to sugarcoat it a little bit, since they are in elementary school — it couldn’t  be too harsh,” Ayana added. “We read them a book, and most of them wanted to understand what Haiti was like.”

“When we were in elementary school, we didn’t cover topics like that — we didn’t cover Haiti at all,” Jill Grossberg, 16, a club member, said. “It was an extra lesson they wouldn’t have had if we didn’t have the opportunity to speak to them, which I think is really great.”

Just after Thanksgiving, Nickolas said, the club had its largest fundraiser, Hope Day, collecting over $900. There were bake sales in every school in the Central District, under the leadership of student groups similar to the Equity Club — Kennedy High’s Diversity Equity Inclusion Club, Mepham High’s Equity Alliance, Grand Avenue’s International Culture Club, and Merrick Avenue’s International Buddy Club. In addition to the bake sale, everyone was encouraged to wear the blue, the color of the Hope for Haiti cause.

Mascary explained that Robyn Einbinder, the social studies chair at Mepham, helped facilitate the connections across the district, and supported the Equity Club’s efforts.

“I was very happy when our message got spread to the whole school, and then to all the high schools, middle schools and the elementary schools,” Grossberg said. “It just really surprised me how much we were able to do with little preparation.”

Alexandra Levitt, 17, a member of Kennedy’s Diversity Equity Inclusion Club, said it was a joy for them to help spread what started in Calhoun. “It was so powerful to see everyone wearing their pride, with the bracelets students sold that said ‘Stronger Together,’” Levitt said. “We are so grateful for the Kennedy High School faculty and staff for their support in bringing this program into our school, and to the rest of the district for allowing us to be involved with such a worthy organization.”


What’s next?

All of the money collected at the various fundraisers was donated directly to Hope for Haiti, a nonprofit whose mission is to improve the quality of life for Haitian people.

Though the Equity Club was founded four years ago, Grossberg said she thinks the Hope Project really helped put it on the map. “The traction started building, with more and more people getting involved and donating and coming to the club,” she explained. “It really got into people’s brains like, oh, I should help.”

Grossberg said that the club’s adviser, Beth Finneran, was extremely helpful, but was also happy to see how student-run most of the club’s efforts were. “I think it shows how much power kids have,” Grossberg added. “Kids can really do so much if they put their minds to it.”