The children of Weehawken’s Theodore Roosevelt School are a generous bunch. Last month, they participated in two simultaneous projects to benefit the less fortunate: Collecting towels for animals at a local shelter, and donating toys to kids in Haiti.
Spearheaded by the fifth and sixth grade Peer Leadership team – a group of students with an interest in community service – the towel drive was a resounding success, benefiting rescued and abandoned animals under the care of the Bergen County Protect & Rescue Foundation, a nonprofit organization serving Bergen and Hudson counties.
Organized by teacher Jill Barbarise, who oversees the peer leaders, the project was conceived when she adopted a dog from the shelter. “When she went to go get her dog, she said the dogs had no towels,” said student Deanna Mezzina. “So she told the Peer Leadership we can bring towels in to help the dogs.”
“What we’re doing is we’re asking each class to at least donate a few towels,” said classmate Marie Eid. The towels will serve as beds for the animals during their stay in the shelter.
“We collected all the towels into this towel pyramid,” said student Sabrina Perez, “and we’re going to give them to the dogs so they have a nice warm place to sleep.”
Animal Control Officer Vincent Ascolese visited the school on Dec. 13 to accept the donation, bringing along a friendly Jack Russell terrier, to the delight of the children. Ascolese provided tips on animal care and lessons on how to care for animals responsibly.
He described the shelter’s mission to “protect and rescue” as many lost, stray, and unwanted domestic animals as possible, advising the kids that “if you see something, say something,” if they come across a situation with an abused or mistreated animal.
The shelter staff also train and coordinate the all-volunteer County Animal Response Team (CART) responsible for responding to local emergencies affecting animals, including disasters like Superstorm Sandy.
“This is a really good opportunity for the children to better their lives through education” – Andrea Eberhard
Accompanying Ascolese on his visit to the school were Animal Control Officer Calvin Hale and Assistant Shelter Director Kristi Heller.
Kids helping kids
While the towel drive benefits local animals, 1,500 miles away, a group of kids will receive a different kind of gift from Roosevelt School’s students.
“We’re doing a toy drive for children in Haiti,” explained fifth grade teacher Andrea Eberhard. “It’s through a foundation called Edeyo.com. We feed, educate, and provide uniforms for 300 children. They don’t have to pay for it. We have two schools located in the worst part of Port-au-Prince called Bel Air, so this is a really good opportunity for the children to better their lives through education. We’ve had great support from everybody; all the teachers and a lot of the students have donated toys.”
In addition to teaching at the elementary school and high school, Eberhard sits on the board of Edeyo. “Other businesses around the city and I believe Montclair school district, one of the schools there is having a toy drive as well, so all these toys are going to go on a plane at Kennedy Airport on Monday the 16th,” Eberhard said. “These are Christmas toys. Whatever the toys that our children at the school don’t use, those toys will be given to kids in the community.”
This is the first partnership between Edeyo and the Roosevelt School. “It’s a good effort by the people to Weehawken to show their support and definitely for the children to see how other people live lives very different. And so my class is actually doing a report on Haiti so they can learn about Haiti. It’s so close but very, very different so they’re doing a research project.”
“This is great for everybody and it’s a lot of fun to do,” said student Sabrina Perez about the holiday projects. “Especially with all my friends.”
Among the other Roosevelt School peer leaders involved in these projects were students Fiza Abid, Loen Albuquerque, Andrea Carranza, Kathyuska Carrillo, Leivys Garcia, Sean Guerriero, Natalie Jonas, Marlon Martinez, Misha Nair, Farah Rafiq, Hadyn Roman, Corey Vangelakos, and Ashley Yang.
Art Schwartz may be reached at email@example.com.