Before the sixth-form bid Brooks School farewell and took their diplomas, they gave back, with a morning of volunteering on campus and in neighboring towns.
The entire class of 103 students came together on May 24 to help advance the work of 10 charities and groups with projects benefitting the communities that they serve.
"It is a good way to go; to say goodbye," said Shaunielle McDonald '94, P'19, director of diversity initiatives and director of community service. "We always want students to think about the notion of leaving well. Their departure from Brooks may be bittersweet -- or they may have anxiety over it, even though it's time and it's a good thing. Volunteering is a way for students to move on in a positive way. By giving back, they're going out into the world with compassion and empathy. They're making an impact and leaving the community well."
The initiative is so important to Brooks that the school's community service group has organized outgoing students to participate in the tradition for more than a decade.
How does it work? Each year, during the weeks preceding Community Service Day, students rank their top five of 10 projects offered as part of the program by preference. McDonald and the community service team then divide up students into small groups to tackle each assignment. The class of 2017's options included:
- Calvary Baptist Church: Students help set-up for afternoon programming at the Haverhill, Mass. church and did light handiwork, such as repairing doors, gardening and other organizational tasks
- Clean River Project: This messy work involved picking up trash polluting the Merrimack River in Methuen, Mass and working hands-on to clean up the water.
- The Stevens-Coolidge Place: Gardening, mulching and planting were the primary tasks of the group assigned to beautify this historical landmark in North Andover.
- Camp Tasker: The Boys & Girls Club of Haverhill, Mass. offers youth summer camp at this Newton, New Hampshire facility. Brook students helped the club prepare for the new season by cleaning the grounds, raking, sweeping, scrubbing and sprucing up the place.
- Merrimack Valley Habitat for Humanity: Three Brooksians helped out at the construction site of one of the organization's builds for a family in Lawrence, Mass. by digging holes – more than 4-feet deep! – for the posts of porches on a new house.
- Lazarus House Ministries, Inc.: Students dropped off and helped organize more than 20 bags of clothing and other items collected from Brooks' dorms for the thrift store of this Lawrence, Mass. shelter.
- Bobbin Farm: Brooks' campus farmer JoAnn Robichaud enjoyed help from greenthumbs who pitched in on a variety of tasks on the property at the edge of Brooks' campus.
- Bread and Roses: Students helped organize goods in the Lawrence, Mass. soup kitchen and worked there, after cleaning out the garage and closets of Brooks' own Community Activities Board (CAB) group on campus.
- Brooks' Campus Thrift Store: Students selected clothing to remain in the school's new student-run free clothing "shop" from the items collected in dorms and donated by members of the Brooks community.
- Brooks barn/auditorium: The old barn came down shortly after the end of the school year to make way for Brooks' new Center for the Arts. Brooks student volunteers helped faculty prepare for the demolition, by removing items from the "shop" and auditorium.
With so many students going to so many destinations on one morning, Community Service Day was a considerable operation, to be sure. And McDonald praised students' flexibility in pulling it all off. "We had a great group of students who have bonded well so it didn't matter to them who was beside them working; it mattered that they were doing something they could be proud of," said McDonald. "That made it easy to configure who was going where and doing what."
For more information about Brooks School's Community Service program, click here.
On the big day, she added: "The kids were all ready to go and follow directions. They're a class that understands this notion of leaving well and they showed up willing to do it." And the charities that the class helped were thrilled that they did.
"Clean River Project would like to give a big "shout out" and thank you to the 14 volunteers from Brooks School's [sixth-form," a representative from the group posted on Facebook. "[It was a] great cleanup at the Greater Lawrence Community Boating Program Inc. today."
Lazarus House Ministries, Inc. had words of thanks to share on social media as well. "As this class heads off to their next adventure in college, we wish to thank them for their caring and kindness for the people we serve and congratulate them on their achievement," a Lazarus House staffer wrote on Facebook after Brooks volunteers dropped off the clothes that they'd collected for the organization. "We love Brooks School!"
Making an impact on Brooks' campus community was equally important, though, this year. "Typically, the goal has been to do more volunteer-project work off campus," she said. "But we're always trying to find new ways for the students to engage ... and this year provided us with an opportunity to serve on campus." With all of the labor involved with the barn demolition and success of the overflowing campus Thrift Store, "there is so much that goes into a day at Brooks that many members of our community may not be aware of," McDonald explained. "Taking a minute to work beside an adult on a task that needs to get done helps them appreciate all that they've had the benefit of their past four years."
The Community Activities Board volunteer opportunity is a prime example. "The CAB put together an incredible year of activities," said McDonald. "Some students appreciate the amount of stuff that Student Activities Coordinator and science teacher Laura Hajdukiewicz P'17, P'19 has had to wade through, catalog and organize in order to make it happen, but not all. To help her with the cleanup of that office gives them greater appreciation."
At the end of the day, the volunteers benefitted from their efforts as well. "We hope that they took away a sense of confidence that they made a positive impact," added McDonald. "They can certainly see that they helped!"