A number of Westwood High students, teachers, and staff took part in a project last month to clean up the yards of some local senior citizens. The effort, spearheaded by the sophomore class, is part of a multi-year effort to help the community. The class of ’21 first conceived of the project as freshmen and wanted to continue it into this school year. After an initial date was snowed out, about 20 students gathered with teachers and staff on November 29 to clean up three local yards.
"My fellow officers and I wanted to pursue this project, mainly due to the success of [the project] from last year,” said class president Hermela Haile. “This volunteer opportunity gives kids the chance to work together to accomplish a more significant task for the greater good.”
Westwood High English teacher Katrina O'Brien is also the class advisor and says this idea came completely from the students. It was their responsibility to get people to volunteer and pull together everything necessary for the clean-up.
"They really wanted to give back to the community while building class unity," she said. "They did all the organizing, gathered the volunteers, and arranged for the materials to use on the day of."
The class originally scheduled the clean-up for the week before Thanksgiving, but Mother Nature got in the way. Snow forced them to reschedule, meaning some volunteers had to back out because of previous commitments. The remaining students carried on, completely cleaning the front and back yards of three local senior citizens.
"They really enjoyed seeing the tangible impact of the work they were doing," said O'Brien. "After the first hour, they could look at a clean yard and see how great it looked."
The students coordinated the project with the Westwood Council on Aging. Director Lina Arena-DeRose assisted in both finding the right seniors for the students to help, as well gathering some of the materials.
"The seniors were so appreciative of the help," she said. "We congratulate them for their hard work and volunteer spirit."
While providing assistance for local senior citizens is the primary goal of the program, it is not the only one. Both O'Brien and Haile said getting students to work together was an important part of the project.
"It gets them outside and away from the typical in-building interaction," said O'Brien.
“We wanted to spread a more profound message of breaking the barriers that come along with cliques to promote inclusion," said Haile. "We hope that people might start a conversation with someone they don't talk to on a day to day basis."
As part of that effort, the sophomores recruited freshman class officers to assist, giving them the chance to see how work benefits both the recipients and the volunteers. O'Brien predicts the sophomore class, led by Haile, Sarah Bernardo, Mayuri Venkatesh, and Oscar Soucy, will continue this project through to their graduation.
"They're keenly aware of their reputation," she said, “and they like to think about what their legacy will be."
Haile confirmed as much, saying she hopes legacy of the class of ’21 will be "kindness, a giving heart, and determination in anything we set our minds to."