Down to its nuts and bolts, a swing set is just a few poles of steel, some chains, seats and well...literal nuts and bolts. But one swing set in particular became much more than that.
Upon arriving at an orphanage and feeding center in the Dominican Republic, eighth grader Noah noticed the skeleton of what used to be a swing set. The white metal structure stood without a single usable swing, its crossbar darkened with rust collected over time. Noah and a group of Whitby seventh and eighth graders accompanied by teachers were at the site for community service.
It left a lasting impression on Noah that he can make an impact, going well beyond the notion that community service hours are just a check list item to complete before graduation.
After doing an initial walkthrough of the grounds, Noah collected enough parts to produce one swing...but that wasn't enough. Before returning to the orphanage the next day, he and Head of Upper School Jonathan Chein visited a hardware store to purchase chains and connectors to finish the job. Not only did the project leave a completed swing set for the boys and girls at the feeding center – something the kids can use years to come – but it left a lasting impression on Noah that he can make an impact, going well beyond the notion that community service hours are just a check list item to complete before graduation.
Community service is a significant part of Whitby's mission from top to bottom. That encompasses different types of activities such as multiage buddy programs, various collection drives, singing at retirement homes and working at soup kitchens. Big or small, all service is important -- whether it's helping clean up a local beach or providing help overseas.
"I think it's important for students to feel empowered and be able to do something and make differences," said Chein. "That's a big part of Whitby in general I would say is to try to instill and have students grasp the fact that with some effort they can make changes and make a difference."
Chein added it was also important to instill the mentality that we have what we have now because of the help and assistance of many people and that it's important to teach the lesson that we should all pay it forward.
But service wasn't just limited to a new swing set. Other students and teachers also rolled up their sleeves, took empowerment, paid it forward and made a difference. Led by Upper School Art Teacher Amy Budzelek, students also painted a vibrant mural that reads "Pan de Vida" or "Bread of Life." Students also served lunch, built garden boxes and played games, anything to put smiles on the faces of their new friends.
"There's a lot of learning that's involved too and learning that people are more similar than different and that we're not all that different than those people that we're working with," Chein said.
Over two and a half days, Whitby students put smiles on the faces of Dominican boys and girls. In return, they were given memories, global perspective and lessons to remember for a lifetime all under the guise of community service hours.