Peconic Community School 4th, 5th, and 6th graders are keeping busy this winter. Along with their intensive academic work, they are making time each week to support the local community.
In an initiative that began in November, with the holidays approaching, the students have been making sandwiches and brown bag lunches to be delivered to local homeless persons across Suffolk County.
“They were asking how they could help,” says PCS guidance counselor and learning specialist, Eileen DeCecco. She has been working with the entire Upper Primary class on student council activities all year long. “The students had already been taking on service projects within the school, such as helping younger children and delivering messages, but they were eager to do more. I began looking for ways they could engage with the community, I found out about a local individual advocating for the homeless of Suffolk County, so I reached out to see if the students could become involved.”
After the first batch of sandwiches were made, students felt so accomplished, they asked if they could keep doing it all year long. The organization, Volunteer4LI agreed, grateful to have the extra hands and resources.
And it’s not only the oldest students doing the work. Parents in the school community help provide the supplies. And all students, even the early childhood class, lends a hand by decorating brown bags and writing messages of support.
After two months of working on this project, representatives of Volunteer4LI came to the school to share with students, teachers and parents the impact their work has had on local homeless in the community. Volunteers at the nonprofit shared how grateful the recipients have been, and how it has even inspired some to try to do more to get off the streets. One volunteer shared the story of how the opened a line of communication and trust that led to the man accepting help from advocates in his search for a job.
“I want to meet them. But, also I feel like I know them,” says 10 year-old student Jude Januzzi. “I like that I’m doing something for somebody I’ve never met.”
“It feels really good to help,” says Imogen Blair, age 9. Imogen particularly enjoys writing messages on her bags, such as “I love you” and “Thinking of you.”
“My daughter is only 4, but already her eyes are being opened to how she can help others.” Co-Director, Kathryn Casey Quigley, reflects. “This weekend, she asked if she could give the money from her piggy bank to the homeless people that the big kids help.”
And the sustained commitment to service does not stop there. Upper Primary students have taken on another initiative this year- regular visits with the elderly. The school was connected to Peconic Retreat, an assisted living facility in Cutchogue. Now, Upper Primary students are paired with a member of the center for monthly one-hour visits. It’s become a mutual admiration society.
“It’s awesome, Peconic Retreat residents like it because they rarely have visitors, and we visit every month so it stays exciting “ says Owen Searl, 9.
“We had fun coloring with them, and they seemed to enjoy it, we also played chess and checkers with them” says Carsen Wengrovsky, 11.
“I let her win at chess, because she hasn’t played in a while and I wanted her to feel good” says Jude Jannuzzi, 10.
“My son, who is typically pretty quiet about his days at school, came home overflowing after his first visit. He had so many questions, and so much to share about his visit with his friend at Peconic Retreat. He couldn’t wait to go back,” shares Liz Casey-Searl co-director of PCS.
We think it’s particularly important that this is more than just a one-time thing. PCS is fortunate to have the flexibility to make a real commitment to student service because we believe that the time provides the deepest learning opportunities,” continues Casey Searl. “Service-learning and community-service were core founding tenets of the school. It is thrilling to see it unfold with the depth and engagement that we envisioned. Not only that, but it’s so multi-faceted. The students bring this experience back to their studies: through writing, reading, history, civics, and because of their personal experience and investment, they’re deeply engaged and motivated to learn.