Jefferson Township High School (JTHS) students recently prepared an impressive 468 individual food sacks for their March service project that will be distributed to the homeless and hungry near Newark’s Penn Station through Project Kind

When this non-profit organization started to team up with local schools, Jefferson Township became its first high school chapter through the efforts of JTHS student Allie Gesek.  Gesek’s mother went to school with Project Kind’s Executive Director Jennie DePaul, a resident of Rockaway Township. Learning about DePaul’s mission to provide support to the homeless by providing food and encouragement,  the project enables them to focus on their strengths and overcome their challenges and circumstances in order to get off the street.  The Gesek family soon became very involved in the project, and Allie told The Jefferson Chronicle,  “I thought it would be a great idea to bring this to my school.”   And so, this community service effort began at JTHS.

Allie Gesek, President of the JTHS chapter of Project Kind, supervised the packing of the decorated food bags in anticipation of a Project Kind representative coming to JTHS to pick them up for distribution in and near Newark’s Penn Station. (Photo by Carol Punturieri)

Students in the JTHS Project Kind Club, along with other student volunteers, gathered in the school’s cafeteria after school on March 12 to begin their project.  Thanks to the JTHS PTSA recently posting a request on Facebook asking for donations through SignUp Genius, the cafeteria tables were piled with loaves of bread, jars of peanut butter and jam, boxes of granola bars and cookies as well as lunch and sandwich bags, bowls, and plates to help defray the costs of such an undertaking.   

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were being prepared at several tables, placed in plastic sandwich bags, and then in individual paper bags along with a several snacks.  Using colorful markers, volunteers wrote a positive sentiment and/or kind words on every bag. Gesek was busy packing the bags in cartons to keep track of the number of bags made and for easy transport by Project Kind. Students came and went, to and from sports practices, other club commitments, and rehearsals for the upcoming spring musical Mamma Mia! (Editor’s Note: Mamma Mia! has since been postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.)

According to Michelle Papa, Assistant Principal at JTHS, service nights started at the school during the 2015-16 school year as a way to introduce community service to the students.  The formation of the JTHS Project Kind club was approved by the Board of Education and is coordinated by teacher Karen (VanderBok) Kosco. Some 34 students originally signed up and participate as often as possible, with at least 10 members who come regularly.

Project Kind Club advisor Karen Kosco checked in on Grace Freda, Meghan Craig, and Natalia Klapacz who were busy making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches during the JTHS service night. (Photo by Carol Punturieri)

Papa elaborated that while the high school does not currently have a community service requirement for graduation, the club and the service nights create opportunities for students to meet such a requirement for scouts, church, athletics, and honor societies. Kosco added that other students participate as an alternative to a disciplinary situation where they volunteer their time in lieu of another consequence.  Participating students meet bi-monthly for two hours working on various projects, and Kosco is assisted by other teacher volunteers.  Papa believes that it’s a great way for the teachers to interact with the students, and she noted that the Jefferson Township Middle School also is involved with the Project Kind organization.

Multiple Service Projects

Kosco mentioned that other service projects have included making holiday placemats for the senior residents at Jefferson Chase and creating handmade greeting cards for St. Jude’s Research Hospital.  The school’s Environmental Club and National Honor Society recently participated in a service night and created Positivity Post-Its and stuck them to student lockers throughout the school.

One of the Project Kind Club’s greatest accomplishments was raising money to financially assist a family rent their own apartment last year.  The club conducted various fundraisers, including a cash donation canning collection event outside the Adam’s Bagels store on Route 15, school bake sales, selling refreshments at the school’s fall drama, and dress-down days where participating staff paid $5 each for that privilege.  

JTHS was recently recognized as a Great Kindness School following their participation in the Great Kindness Challenge (GKC), a proactive and positive bullying prevention initiative that improves school climate and increases student engagement. The GKC involves one week devoted to performing as many acts of kindness as possible on campus. Using the provided checklist of 50 kind acts, students accept the challenge and show the world that kindness matters.  Using the kindness checklist, students work independently in small groups or as a whole class to complete all 50 challenges.

Project Kind Club President Allie Gesek and Christian Carline packed granola snacks and cookies to accompany the sandwich bags that were being made for Newark’s homeless. (Photo by Carol Punturieri)

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