Community Service Spotlight: Taking Initiative Amidst Covid-19

Summer Qureshi '22: During a lesson on the American Thanksgiving holiday, Summer Qureshi ’22 pointed to an image of a traditional Thanksgiving food, calling it a “turkey.”

Summer Qureshi '22: During a lesson on the American Thanksgiving holiday, Summer Qureshi ’22 pointed to an image of a traditional Thanksgiving food, calling it a “turkey.” Her students, Syrian refugees in Turkey, turned aghast, questioning how their country could also be a cooked food. Qureshi often laughs as she recalls this moment.

This past summer, while interning at the GiveLight Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on uplifting orphans around the world, Qureshi taught English to young Syrian refugees living in Turkey. Every Tuesday morning since November, Qureshi has been teaching one group of children with ages ranging from 5 to 13 years old on Zoom.

“Before, I was giving speeches about [the Syrian refugees] at competitions, and I was helping raise money for their school supplies, but I didn’t have this direct interaction with them, so I was super excited to have this opportunity to work with them more closely,” Qureshi said.

Due to the students’ various age gaps and learning experiences, they struggled with different barriers, such as pronunciation or forming sentences. Qureshi “caters the feedback that [she gives] to each student based on what each of them needs.” To tackle the language barrier, she also prepares presentations with the Arabic translations of English words with help from a facilitator at the GiveLight organization.

A typical session begins with a Quizlet activity, introducing vocabulary from the story that they read for homework that day. Next, she invites her students to share their prompt-based personal writing from previous classes. Finally, she hosts a Kahoot game (which the students always cheer for) tailored around the story. “It’s important that they feel engaged and are actually enjoying learning rather than just having words thrown at them,” she said.

Qureshi also gained a glimpse into her students’ personal lives, often reading about their experiences from writing assignments, which inspired her idea for a Welles Grant project: “I realized how rarely we get to hear narratives from children, especially Syrian orphan children.” She plans to conduct a two-week workshop where her students can practice narrative writing and publish their work into a book.

Qureshi added, “I hope to not speak about them but hand over the mic so that they can speak for themselves.” Qureshi also hopes to work with the GiveLight Foundation to turn her storytelling project into a yearly initiative. “Twenty years from now, my hope is that the impact [of my project] can still continue in generations to follow and doesn’t just end with my high school and college career.”

Chris Crane '21: While he usually picks up the razor for Lawrenceville’s annual St. Baldrick’s fundraiser, this past Thanksgiving break, Chris Crane ’21, along with his close friends Matt Manahan ’20 and Eyal Yakoby, decided to fundraise for lung cancer research and awareness. As lung cancer has personally affected each of their families, the trio chose to contribute to LUNGevity, the nation’s largest lung cancer research non-profit.

“It can be hard for people to feel attached to the effects of a disease like cancer if you haven’t experienced it firsthand, but it’s more common than most think,” Crane said. Indeed, lung cancer is the most common cancer worldwide for both men and women; the disease is also responsible for 1.3 million deaths annually.

Since Crane, Manahan, and Yakoby are passionate about athletics and wellness, they decided to pursue extreme physical feats to fundraise for the non-profit. Manahan prepared to bike one hundred miles, while Crane and Yakoby chose to complete a marathon (26.2 miles) on the erg and treadmill, respectively.

The group live-streamed the event on Zoom to encourage interaction with their potential donors. When finally crossing the finish line hours later, Crane, Manahan, and Yakoby emerged successful, raising $9,251, 185 percent of their initial $5,000 goal.

Crane described his experience rowing as excruciatingly painful, especially after suffering from a back injury. Nevertheless, inspired by his mother’s resilience during her fight against lung cancer, he was determined to push through and finish the marathon.

Four years ago, when the doctors diagnosed her with the disease, Crane noted that “the prospects looked bleak, but in the last four years, research has extended both her time and options for survival. Every month there are new options which [come] from extensive funding—[that] is what makes fundraisers so important.”

When asked to give advice to Lawrentians looking to pursue fundraising, Crane said, “If you have a passion and want to make a difference, you will always find support…even if that doesn’t turn into a large donation, encouragement and awareness will get you just as far.”

In the future, Crane, Manahan, and Yakoby hope to do more with the progress they have made this past winter. The trio plans to host this fundraiser annually and on a much larger scale to increase profits for lung cancer research. Multiple people have reached out to Crane hoping to participate next year, so he is thrilled to include anyone eager to contribute in the fight against lung cancer.

Big Red UNICEF: In the Winter Term of her II Form year, Tiffany Yeung ’22 scrolled through her Twitter feed, looking for updates from her favorite K-pop group, BTS. Excitingly, the group posted something new: a promotional picture with the hashtag “ENDviolence” of their new “Love Myself” campaign with the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). She clicked on the link and began reading about issues of domestic violence against children. Inspired by the group’s widespread impact, Yeung began the Big Red UNICEF club, hoping to rally the Lawrenceville community through UNICEF’s platform.

In the third year of the club, Yeung and IV Form Co-Leaders Lauren Kim, Sneha Kondru, and Sabrina Yeung have now organized numerous impactful events, even during a global pandemic. They created a GoFundMe for the Black Lives Matter movement this past spring, distributed pins to encourage voting this fall, and fundraised for Australian wildfire relief through a bake sale. Acknowledging the importance of organizing different types of events to engage the community, Kim said that their “most meaningful events are the ones where the people who participate [got] the most out of it.”

This year, the club struggled to create engaging fundraisers without incentives of in-person socialization, especially for their 5K Turkey Trot event in honor of World Children’s Day. The leaders ultimately decided to organize the run virtually this past Thanksgiving, and participants paid an entry fee of either $10 or, to get an additional mask, $20. Within the first week of Thanksgiving Break, participants ran the 5K and sent in a selfie to document their race.

Sabrina Yeung noted that, at first, “it was difficult to get people to sign up, even just to [help swipe FOBs], along with running the race.” The leaders worried that their emails would “get lost in all the other emails that people are bombarded with.” However, through promoting the event on their social media pages, they gained up to 30 sign-ups. Competing against participants from the University of North Carolina and St. Joseph’s University, Lawrenceville ultimately won, raising $450 through the event.

Reflecting on their events, Kim most appreciated the leaders’ ability to brainstorm ideas together. “The idea that we start off with is oftentimes, not how we execute it in the end, but I think that’s a good learning opportunity for us as a leadership team,” she said.

On advice she would give Lawrentians who are interested in community service, Kondru said, “If you have an idea that you’re passionate about, you can email Mrs. Kosoff, reach out to the community service office, or ask for support from the Humanitarian Aid Society...there are so many outlets for you to take concrete action, and you have the potential to make a real and positive difference in this community.”

Beyond the Book: In the midst of quarantine, Emmy Apfel ’22 noticed that her younger brother was struggling to adapt to virtual learning. While he overcame his roadblocks with guidance from his family, Apfel knew that other students in similar positions may not be able to rely on family members for help or have access to adequate resources on their learning journeys. Recognizing the severity of this issue, Apfel immediately began to rally a group of her friends in San Francisco and posted on Nextdoor that her team was available for tutoring services. Apfel figured she could make a slight difference in helping her local area, but she didn’t expect what came next: 50+ eager responses within an hour.

She proceeded with confidence, thinking, “Who knows online learning better than us high schoolers? Nobody!” After much positive feedback for their services, Apfel and her team decided to make their local initiative a larger one. Eventually, they spearheaded the organization Beyond the Book: a certified 501c3 non-profit that offers K-8 students one-on-one tutoring services for their academic or organizational needs.

Soon after launching their local project, Apfel and six other board members instantly worked to expand their initiative internationally. After constant board meetings, website planning, mission statement editing, and streamlining of services, they launched the organization within just a few months: “I realized from day one that I can make a small impact alone, but that can be amplified one hundred times with the right people by my side.”

The team’s mission from the start focused on understanding its students’ individual curiosities and motivations for learning. While the team helps students perform better in the classroom and improve their grades, Apfel noted that the sole focus is not only on “achieving a 4.0 or 1600,” but also encouraging “students to take away a newfound love and excitement for learning.”

The parents of a fourth-grade boy reached out to the team about their son, who has autism and needed a Study Buddy’s support for his schoolwork. He was assigned to a Study Buddy, and the two have now been studying together for nine months, completing three sessions per week. His reading ability improved significantly—a testament to the power of connection and friendship between Study Buddies and their students.

Today, Beyond the Book boasts a team of 360 people, 180 routine sessions, an international reach, a feature on CNN, and $500 in pro bono ads from Facebook. Apfel is eager about multiple new partnerships with other organizations such as the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club, and the Jewish Community Center (JCC) as well as new advancements, including group tutoring sessions and a summer camp.

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