By Ziya Patel
In 1983, Mineola High School teacher Diana Falk came up with the brilliant idea of having a Student Service Center in Mineola High School. It’s been 33 years and the Student Service Center (SSC) at Mineola High School continues to thrive. Led by Mineola High School teachers Eileen Burke and Claudia Rudnet, the SSC is an opportunity for students to engage in meaningful service. This wonderful program allows students to volunteer in services that hold their interest whenever they’re available, such as during or after school.
The SSC has a variety of opportunities to offer to students such as Computeers, INN Youth Board, Lunch Brunch, Nursing Home, Ronald McDonald House Dinner Project, etc. These service projects enable students to work with senior citizens, as well as the hungry and homeless. The most popular service project with the most participation would be Lunch Brunch, in which senior citizens come over to Mineola High School to have lunch with students allowing students and senior citizens to connect and bond with one another. About 300 students from grades 9-12 volunteer each year with about 400 students from eighth grade. These students do one or more service activity a year and are seen as a gift to the community. Devoted students earn recognition through how many hours they volunteer for. Students volunteer from one to 132 hours a year. In fact, MHS student 11th-grader Sofia Guirola served for 132 hours last year followed by 12th-grader Elizabeth Ryan, who served for 80 hours.
The SSC doesn’t only lend a helping hand to people who are in need, but it also forms pride and joy in the individuals who volunteer. Senior Sandra Pinto enjoyed going to the Nassau County Bar Association to decorate gingerbread houses with little children as well as other various activities. She said, “I dressed up as Rudolph and the Gingerbread Man and went around taking pictures with the children there and just making them laugh. With all of the craziness that has been going on around the world these last few months, it was refreshing to witness and interact whose faces lit up just from seeing the characters I was dressed as.”
Pinto points out that the Gingerbread University & Children’s Party service project is an opportunity to take a break from reality and go back in time to when we were sweet, innocent little kids as we dress up in costumes and dance with not a care in the world.
Elizabeth Ryan talked about the SPARC-University Soup Kitchen program which serves the poor, hungry and homeless.
According to Ryan, “I found that the hungry, the lost, the homeless, are people. I had always known it, of course, but it is easy to say, ‘Oh I’m serving the poor,’ or ‘I need to help the homeless,’ when the emphasis is on ‘I.’ That day proved to me that service really is about the needs of people. I discovered humanity that day, through the patrons, the veteran volunteers, and the other student volunteers, all thanks to the invaluable opportunity afforded by SPARC.” Ryan gathered from her experience that the SSC is all about helping fulfill the needs of people who are fighting to survive. Also, she noticed that the SSC is designed for students to work together as a team in order to serve their community and spread some positivity around their environment.
The service projects students volunteer for is life changing. The first time I volunteered was for Computeers, a program where you help senior citizens with technology. I helped a kindhearted woman named Caroline who made a huge impact on my life. Not only did she learn from me, but I learned from her as she gave me wise advice. Computeers is a great way to connect with a senior citizen. I don’t get to see my grandparents often so I looked forward to seeing Caroline. She was like family to me. I continue to volunteer as much as I can because I want to feel that exhilarating feeling after helping someone. After all, it all comes down to being there for someone whether it’s serving the poor or simply listening to senior citizens because everyone needs somebody. Even though you can’t help the whole world, you can help one person and to that one person you have made their world much better.
The Student Service Center is an organization full of student volunteers who strive to make this world a better place by generating love to those who need it. All you need is a heart full of compassion that is willing to do anything to serve.
—Ziya Patel is a student at Mineola High School