An Evolution of Community Service

An Evolution of Community Service
Posted on 10/13/2023
Dog Reading

An Evolution of Community Service


Nearly three decades ago, Bedwell teacher Laurie Heppes, along with a team of her since-retired colleagues, administrators, and community members, set forth to write a district goal. That goal was a districtwide community service program, and since that time it has kept going and kept growing within the Somerset Hills School District.


At the elementary level, Bedwell students participate in at least two hours of community service. This is done through four schoolwide projects and each grade level organizes their own community service endeavors. Working together, Heppes and her fellow community service advisor Phyllis DeStefano make connections locally to see where there is a need, and how students and families can make the lives of others a little better and a little brighter. To kick off the 2023-2024 school year, the Bedwell advisors are running a glasses drive to collect eyeglasses, reading glasses, and sunglasses. These glasses are then repurposed to help those in need. 


Looking ahead to November, Bedwell will host a food drive which typically accepts donations of not only food, but socks and hygiene items as well. On the horizon for the December holidays is a toy drive that will include a collection of winter scarves, mittens and hats. “It is wonderful to help people not only in our neighboring towns, but expanded to the greater Somerset County area too,” said Heppes. “The children love being part of the process… from planning, to contributing, to collecting. Over the years I have witnessed another consistent thread; students love to give of their time and talents, be it creating signs for a pet drive, drawing pictures for veterans, or writing letters for our seniors.”  


While the foundation begins at Bedwell in terms of igniting the spark of service and giving, it certainly continues on as the students move up to the middle and high school levels.  At Bernardsville Middle School students complete at least 35 hours of community service, typically five hours in their 5th grade year, and 10 each year following. While students are free to branch off to where their own experiences lead them, BMS advisor Melissa Kimmel organizes a comprehensive list with a wide array of choices. There are highlights each month, such as a lake clean-up or car wash, as well as a ton of year-round opportunities! One student favorite is the Paws for Reading opportunity where students (ages 8-15) can volunteer their time at SAVE Animal Shelter to read out loud to feline friends and canine companions. Not only does it benefit students’ reading skills, it helps to socialize the many deserving, adoptable pets as they await their forever homes; and within this service opportunity, happiness, love, and connections blossom between the students and shelter pets almost instantly! Like the domino effect, when moving from middle to high school, students often elect to participate in leadership opportunities at SAVE, acting as mentors for younger Paws for Reading volunteers. This is just one example at the middle school of how a simple act of service can develop into so much more!


As a schoolwide initiative, a representative has come from the Travis Manion Foundation for the last two years,  to speak to students about the power of taking part. “We hope to inspire our middle school students with the words of its namesake,” said BMS Principal Lisa Garofalo. First Lieutenant Travis Manion, United States Marine Corps, made the ultimate sacrifice in 2007. He embodied leadership and selfless service in his belief, “If not me, then who?”.   Those words are the mantra of the community service actions at Bernardsville Middle School.


At Bernards High School, community service has been a source of pleasure and fulfillment, as well as hours towards graduation. As adjustments to the process have been made recently, current 9th and 10th grade students need to complete 20 hours of service, culminating with a “showcase” to BHS staff, where the teens present their theme, mission, and learning experiences through their service work. Anna Sosely, community service advisor at the high school shared, “I’m excited for this recent update since it really allows students to reflect upon the meaning of their service and how they were impacted by it.” In addition to their individual volunteerism, the school community hosts many community service opportunities such as blood drives, Jersey Cares, Pennies for Patients, and Color a Smile. Where there is a need, BHS is proud to answer the call.


What is evident amongst the SHSD school community, by listening to the words and watching the actions of its students, is that they truly enjoy being part of something… something larger than themselves! Many are inspired to branch out and go beyond what is available or required at school; they spend additional time getting involved in other acts of service on their own, in houses of worship, on athletic teams, or through organizations focused on their personal interests. What could be better?

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