Typically, the senior class of St. Anne’s-Belfield School spends a portion of the month of May engaged in internships with local organizations. For the Class of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic changed much of their spring and led to their internships being reimagined as service opportunities.
“The Class of 2020 has missed out on many of the rites of passage they had anticipated in their senior year, and so rather than cancelling the internship experience completely they instead chose to use their last week before graduation dedicating themselves to service,” said Upper School Latin teacher and Director of Senior Internships Brandtly Jones.
Despite the enormous need at this time, connecting seniors with service opportunities proved challenging due to health and safety concerns as well as the disruptions faced by service organizations. The Entrepreneurship Senior Seminar, taught by Jones and Associate Head of School for Advancement Warren Buford, canvased many nonprofits to find virtual and in-person opportunities for their classmates. The class pivoted to focus on innovations in the nonprofit sector, and welcomed guest speakers from the Center for Nonprofit Excellence (CNE), the United Way, and Madison House in order to understand the context of the needs of the local community, what virtual service might look like, and how nonprofits are innovating during the pandemic.
"Serving our community is something that is really valued at the School, and is something that is stressed through our time in the Upper School. A main focus of the Entrepreneurship seminar is helping businesses in our community, so we felt like we were a good group of students to take charge on this new project," said Katie Eastlack '20.
"The internship program in some sense is a form of service to local businesses and companies, so we thought the best way to still gain that experience and give back was through the week of service, given the circumstances we’re in as a country right now."
The class was able to partner with the Jefferson Area Board for Aging (JABA) to create "Seniors to Seniors" as a way to connect graduating seniors with senior citizens who have isolated due to the pandemic.
“Students are writing letters, sending artwork, and posting encouraging and entertaining videos on JABA's Facebook page so that these seniors can feel remembered and loved at this anxious moment," said Jones. "Additionally, our seniors are participating in a virtual coffee chat with members of Innisfree Village which works with adults with intellectual disabilities, volunteering at Camp Holiday Trails, cleaning parks and trails, and much more.”
Senior Maddie Kwasnick became acquainted with Seniors to Seniors via a student in the entrepreneurship seminar.
“Each day this week, I have completed at least one act of service, whether it be writing a letter, vacuuming for my elderly neighbor, or reaching out to a friend in need,” said Kwasnick. “My favorite part of this experience is the numerous opportunities at home, and the creative leeway. It just goes to show that you don’t necessarily have to drive into town and spend a whole day volunteering somewhere in order for it to count as ‘service’… we can truly make a difference right where we are if we consider the opportunities and get creative.”
Seniors carried out service activities from home, as well as in their local communities. Given the global nature of the Class of 2020, this meant that Saints engaged with communities around the world.
"Our students in China have been using the skills they acquired here in the United States to teach English to younger students,” said Jones. “All around the world, the Class of 2020 is performing acts of kindness large and small to bring some light into this difficult time.”