Kids lead the way

Peer group will present check to Special Olympics

In Weehawken High School’s Peer Leadership program, a group of ninth to 12th graders gathers each week to strategize about how to best serve the township of Weehawken.
Under the guidance of Basic Technology teacher Laura Sciortino, they have assembled a track record of community involvement, volunteering at the annual Lincoln Tunnel 5K Special Olympics challenge, the Elks St. Patrick’s Day breakfast, the Taste of Roosevelt annual fund raiser, the town’s Christmas and Easter parties, and the Memorial Day parade.
They tutor, they mentor, they even deliver Thanksgiving dinners with Mayor Richard Turner and the Town Council.
In addition to volunteerism, Peer Leadership raises money for charity by sponsoring fundraising drives. And for the second year in a row, Optimum Community’s Charity Champions contest has chosen to honor their efforts. This spring at an awards ceremony to be held at the high school, the students and their mentors will receive seed money of $500 and be given the opportunity to present a check of $1,000 to the Special Olympics, the charity of choice for Peer Leadership.

They tutor, they mentor, they even deliver Thanksgiving dinners.
Sciortino is proud of her group and of the support the group receives from the wider community. “Every spring, we have a ‘milk chocolate bunny pop’ sale, which is a great fundraiser for us,” she said. “Last year, it brought in $150. It costs us nothing. We can give it all to charity because Mr. Little donates all the pops.”
Joseph T. Little is the director of curriculum for the Weehawken School System, but serendipitously, he is also a chocolatier.

A weekly strategy session

At the most recent meeting of the peer group, the principal of Weehawken High, Steven Spinoza, and Alfred Orecchio, principal of Roosevelt Middle school and director of Peer Leadership, stopped by.
Orecchio asked a question of the group: Would they be interested in putting together some sort of panel discussion on the positive uses of social media? A lot of hands went up in response.
The meeting was for the group to find new ways to reach the community, to plan and execute projects. The officers of Peer Leadership meet every Wednesday during their lunch hour. Decisions made at this meeting will be discussed at the general membership meeting on Thursday.
During the meeting, Sophomore Grace Denfeld, corresponding secretary of Peer Leadership, searched through emails to make sure there have been no schedule changes to any of their activities. “There’s been a lot of snow,” she smiled. She is also the creator and driving force of the Grace Denfeld “Dine to Donate” charity event for Peer Leadership, which this year raised $454.
On April 4 at the annual Easter egg hunt, she planned to be there to volunteer in a Lamb Chop costume. At the Memorial Day parade, another officer, Viktorya Barbarash, expects to appear as Uncle Sam.
Sitting next to Denfeld was Portia Calo, president of Peer Leadership. It is her last year with them. She is a graduating senior and will attend Montclair State next year.
“I will miss this,” she said, noting that Sciortino has been “unbelievable, great.”
For Portia, the whole experience is something that will be with her for the rest of her life. She described Sciortino in terms of being caring, involved, energetic, and totally committed.
In giving of themselves, the students learn about themselves. And in wearing the many hats of volunteerism, they pick up important real-world skills for the future. Sciortino pointed to a screen at the front of the room, where she displayed a sample resume of one of the Peer Leadership students.
“Organizational skills, fund raising, planning and executing events, keeping people updated on scheduling changes, communications skills, filing, using social media…” she said.
She is very proud of the work of Peer Leadership, the work they do now and the work they will do in the future.
“I guess it’s just a mutual admiration society,” she said.

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