Freshman Donovan Johnson helps Essence of Hope organize food donations during Freshman Community Engagement Day on Oct. 10. Photo: Zeena Lattouf

Engaging with the Atlanta community’s service organizations is not only a 40-hour requirement in the Arthur M. Blank Family Upper School. It’s also a passion and major activity for many students. Volunteerism allows people to become active members of their community and help those in need, and participation can spur the development of skills in collaboration and critical thinking.

Organized by Isdell Center for Global Leadership Associate Director Zeena Lattouf and Freshman Transitions Program Coordinator Lee Wilson, Community Engagement Day exposes students to some of the service opportunities available in the Atlanta area. On Oct. 10, all freshmen volunteered at one of five sites: the Atlanta Beltline, Bloom Closet, Blue Heron Nature Preserve, Essence of Hope and Price Middle School.

On a portion of the Atlanta Beltline adjacent to Piedmont Park, one group of freshmen worked to clean up the appearance of the path. Their tasks included shoveling and redistributing mulch, rearranging bricks and rocks and picking up trash. “We got to see an immediate change in the appearance of the trail which made it that much more meaningful,” said freshman Grant Thompson. The trash was mainly left over from Music Midtown, and without the students’ help, much of it would have remained. “We listened to music, ate snacks and talked with each other while we worked,” said freshman Claire Farinella. “It made the amazing experience of helping our community that much better.”
The Bloom Closet provides Georgia’s foster children with new or gently used clothing, shoes, baby gear, books, toys and school supplies. After traveling all the way to Fayetteville, freshmen volunteers organized donated items in the shop, which provides a dignified, free shopping experience for foster children. “The Bloom Closet was a hands-on experience that truly made me feel like I was making a positive impact on a life that was less fortunate than mine,” said freshman Amalia Haviv. “Deeply thinking about what I was doing made me feel good and pushed me to be more enthusiastic about my jobs for the day. I would definitely go back.” The Bloom Closet, in addition to being part of Community Engagement Day, is a regular service opportunity at Pace led by seniors Madeline Arenth and Leah Mautner.
Another service destination was the Blue Heron Nature Preserve, a non-profit which is dedicated to protecting and preserving 30 acres of native habitat in Atlanta’s urban environment. The students were tasked with pulling up Chinese privet, an invasive species common in Georgia that kills other plant life. “The Chinese privet was all over the preserve and was surprisingly easy to pull out,” said freshman Clare Hsu. “After a while, we got used to it and we got to have fun while helping out, despite getting horrible mosquito bites.”

Essence of Hope aids people whose lives have been adversely affected by homelessness and hunger. These people have endured addiction, alcoholism, HIV, AIDS, mental illness, domestic violence and an abundance of other struggles. There, the students organized food donations, helped the staff get ready for their clients and handed out the food they sorted. “I really enjoyed volunteering at Essence of Hope because I got to meet a bunch of interesting people and everyone I met was so nice,” said freshman Alison Silverboard. “It was a really cool experience, and I would definitely volunteer there again.”

At Price Middle School, Pace volunteers painted over pen and pencil markings on the walls of the school and cleaned up trash. According to freshman Giana Karamanolis, the freshman volunteers learned about the school’s mission to inspire all students, as they are part of the “Purpose-Built Schools Atlanta” organization. These schools strive to create high-performing schools in low-income areas in Atlanta. “Working at Price Middle School was a great experience and an opportunity to give back to a school committed to helping its community, not only through education, but also through the guidance of kids who have difficulties at home,” said freshman Marielle Frogman. “I’m grateful to have gotten the chance to contribute to such a compassionate undertaking.”