by Samantha Kelts, (2016), Alexia Stefanovich (2016), and Jackie Jiang (2018)
On Saturday, Oct. 17, Belmont High School students participated in the 17th annual Connecting With Belmont community service event that included everything from gardening, farming, and sandwich making, to reading with young children at the library and removing invasive plants.
According to Alice Melnikoff, the event’s organizer and school’s Community Service Director, the yearly Connecting Wih Belmont event is not only about getting high schoolers involved in the community, but also about working to make improvements to our town that will motivate others to get involved as well.
“It’s important for students to give back to the community that nurtured them. It spotlights what the students can do for the town, and how everyone can be involved in helping make Belmont a better place,” she said.
At the Belmont Food Pantry, a group of student volunteers worked on sorting and organizing the sea of donated food items onto designated shelves. Freshman Lily Hoffman Strickler, expressed her motivation behind volunteering for this event, telling us that “there are so many people out there that don’t have as many resources as we do, and it feels good to give back.”
On the opposite side of the high school, a group was also working hard to restore benches on the softball field while inside the school’s cafeteria, another group was assembling sandwiches for the Middlesex Human Services Agency, which has runs shelters, a soup kitchen, and detoxification and rehabilitation programs.
“It was really rewarding because it showed what we could do when we all worked together” commented senior Ammu Dinesh; “we got into a rhythm and cranked out 312 [sandwiches] in two hours.”
Students also spread out to locations all over Belmont to contribute their time to improve the Belmont community as a whole.
Two groups of students made their way over to the Belmont Public Library and the Woodland Garden, located on Concord Avenue. The first group stayed indoors and helped wash baby toys, organize books in the young adult section, and read with children.
“I like this particular community service event because it does good for the community while also building a structure for Belmont High School,” said Sasa Gutterman, Class of 2017.
Kylie Sparks, Young Adult reference librarian, described how before the event, the “room was totally packed full of books” and that it “is a really big help” when student volunteers can provide service. She also loves that it brings people into the library.
Sophomore Teresa Frick read with a young kindergartener and commented that “he’ll use reading skills for the rest of his life, so it makes a big impact.”
Outside of the library, at the Woodland Garden, students gave their time in order to remove widespread euonymus ground covering that was preventing the garden’s vinca leaves from flourishing and surviving. As summarized eloquently by junior Bo Lan, the motivation behind doing this type of physically challenging work is that, “we need the community of Belmont to enjoy this place.”
Although difficult, students find it rewarding to see how their individual efforts can have a positive impact on our community. Sarah Sos of the Belmont Garden Club stressed the fact that “it is important to get people started on a lifelong habit of not just acting for themselves but for working for the community as a whole,” an idea that is central to the purpose of the Connecting with Belmont event.
The Woodland Gardens was not the only location where students got involved in nature. At the Mass Audubon Habitat, students cut back overgrown vines and weeds on the outskirts of Weeks Pond and Meadow. They cut down bittersweet leaves, which are invasive vines, in order to prevent them from taking nutrition from the trees, thus keeping the trees alive and healthy. Senior Katrina Rizzuto commented that “the scenery was beautiful,” and that “Habitat is definitely the best place to experience autumn.”
Students greatly enjoyed spending time in this peaceful atmosphere. After an afternoon of immersing himself in nature, Freshman Ken Chen said that he felt “a sense of accomplishment after all the work, because seeing the original pile of thorns disappear was rewarding.”
Students even had the opportunity to go as far as the Beech Street Senior Center, where many hands were desperately needed to manage the garden surrounding the building. The four students assigned here raked leaves and gathered the piles into leaf bags, and also learned how to identify and pull many different varieties of weeds. Although having never met before, these students showed excellent group effort in helping in our community.
“It’s important to help out and make connections with your community, and it’s also important to make connections with your peers, which is why this event is so significant,” explained senior Ritika Saxena.
The work of the volunteers was much appreciated by the group’s supervisor, Claire Stanley, for when asked for her opinion on the Connecting With Belmont Event, she disclosed, “I think it’s wonderful that students are required to do community service here in Belmont. That did not happen when I was young in Michigan. It’s a great use of volunteer time and the senior center desperately needs more people than just me to take care of the garden.”
Back in nature at Belmont Acre Farms, students cleared over 1,000 square feet of plants from the farmland to leave room for crops. Mayura Thomas, Class of 2019, stated that she enjoyed the activity because “it felt good doing hard work for a good cause.” Farmer Michael Chase highlighted the outstanding point that “it’s important to make the connection to where your food comes from” and, also, that through this event, “you can directly see how multiple people working together can accomplish quite a lot.”
Overall, Connecting With Belmont was a huge success, and everyone is anxiously looking forward to participating again next year.