Student Story: Students Still Find Ways To Give Back During Pandemic

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By: Paige Britt, Senior, Gateway Regional High School, Woodbury Heights, NJ

Photo credit: Twitter

WOODBURY HEIGHTS, N.J. — In the last year, community has proven to be more important than ever. Finding that sense of togetherness within a community has taken on new forms, and has created challenges to be involved safely. For students at Gateway Regional High School, they have found creative ways to give back to their school and the overall community. 

Gateway Senior and Vice President of Gateway’s National Honors Society (NHS), Abigail Jones, explained the biggest project the club has tackled so far. 

“Our main project this year was collecting donations with the Gloucester County Animal Shelter. Over the span of about a month, we were able to collect a huge amount of donations within our own towns, which really helped considering they were at such a lack of donations due to the pandemic,” Jones said. 

Marissa Pona, Gateway teacher and advisor of NHS, mentioned some of the smaller scale projects the club has been able to accomplish. 

“We’ve collected tabs from cans to donate to the Ronald Mcdonald House, made goodies for teachers, and are hosting a Valentine’s day raffle for students,” Pona said. 

Jenna Bryszewski, Gateway Senior and NHS president, described the next event the club will participate in. 

“We are coordinating with Gateway Regional Education Association (GREA) to help run the Bundle Up 5K event. This event is very special to all of us at Gateway, as it helps the family of a teacher who just recently passed due to cancer,” Bryszewski explained. 

Although the club has been able to successfully host events regarding the school and the community, student engagement is an obstacle they continue to face. 

Pona noted her gratitude for Zoom during these times. “Zoom and Google Classroom are a lifesaver! We can still host meetings/idea sessions/and stay in touch.” 

Jones added, “We have been having Zoom meetings regularly, once or twice a month, and we encourage everyone to turn on their cameras, offer ideas and continuously participate.”

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the National Honors Society has been hit with numerous challenges and limitations. 

Gateway Senior and NHS Co-Treasurer, Catherine Lombardo, commented on the lack of funds the club has compared to a typical school year. 

“We are short on money because we can not meet and have fundraisers. Members of the club do not have access to community service like they used to. It’s harder to help our community because not everyone is accepting donations or help,” Lombardo noted. 

Bryszewski explained what a usual year looks like for NHS. 

“We normally run a lot of events and service projects making food for the homeless or cookies for nursing homes. That’s been thrown out the window. It’s made us become resourceful and think of ideas that are more outside of the box that we can do with restrictions,” said Bryszewski. 

Pona described the setbacks Covid has had on the club from an advisor’s perspective. 

“I have had to really loosen the rules and expectations for members. We do not have mandatory hours, and even grade checks have been liberal. I’m okay with it though because this is a stressful time and we all need a little ‘grace and space’ to deal with the pandemic and schooling in this model. My priority is the safety and mental health of my kids (yes, all my NHS students are my kids),” Pona noted. 

Through all of the obstacles the club has faced, the leaders of NHS recognize the importance of community service during this time, and their responsibility in upholding that. 

Jones said, “Community service has become increasingly important with the pandemic. Everyone has been affected by this in some way, and it has become really important to check in on friends, family, and neighbors, and recognize that everyone could use some extra support. It is vital that we offer whatever we can to those in need right now.” 

Pona agreed with this sentiment, emphasizing the importance of gratitude during tough times. 

“I think moments of crisis remind us of how important it is to care for each other and practice selflessness. It is very tough out there right now, but focusing on gratitude for what we have and helping those with less is often a great way to keep yourself focused and have that very important perspective in life. I’m proud of my NHS members because they put a lot of energy into helping others during a time when everyone needs more support than ever,” Pona explained. 

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