The Season of Light

By Vy Nguyen

As we approach the holiday season, it’s important to note how we can use our power for good.

If you have been at OES since last year, you have probably heard about Giving Tree or the Giving Season. Around the start of December, members of the OES community, whether students, teachers or parents, are asked to donate, through cash or check, to families of students going to Whitford Middle School. You may have also noticed the name change of this year; the Service Learning Coordinators across divisions selected the name Season of Light to emphasize the many ways we give, receive, and create light during the many holidays this time of year. In addition, “giving” implies a passive action: service also means reflection– more than just giving out one-dimensional help within responsibility.

Last year, SLAC (Service Learning Action Committee) managed to raise more than $2,000 for the cause through simple fundraising, able to support 9 families with gift cards. There has been a lot of positive reaction to this change from the traditional Giving Tree model; gift cards provide more flexibility for the families regarding making choices around their purchases for the holiday. Despite the great amount of money we acquired, the donation competition between grades were not received well by a lot of students. Various individuals1 cited it as “unnecessarily competitive”, raising eyebrows at the pressure that each class had to bear if they did not donate as much as the others. The fact that students felt compelled to give money only out of pride or the wish to win did not truly reflect the meaning and spirit of service. Therefore, SLAC decided to retreat to traditional fundraising without establishing any competition. Donation boxes are placed in the US Office and the Deanery; the goal is to collect $400 per grade, around $5 per student by December 17th.

According to Katie Seltzer, this year’s US Service Learning Coordinator for 11th and 12th graders, fundraising can seem transactional, the one-dimensional act of donating seems to be the end of service responsibilities to a lot of people. The craft fair that SLAC will be hosting this year with AASK arose from the wish to deepen the engagement with the families we support, and strengthen OES’ connection with Whitford. Taking place at Whitford on December 13th, various craft booths, such as ornament painting or jewelry making, will be set up, so students in the AASK program will have the chance to create their own holiday gifts for their families. The gift making extravaganza, according to AASK faculty coordinator Maria McIvor, is also a great way to empower Whitford students to experience the joy of giving, providing them with the tools, time, and ability to create and give.

It is important to have conversations, either at the dinner table or during a car ride, regarding service, the basis of giving, and how we, as a privileged community, can contribute without making it seem one-sided. As mentioned, the act of service branches out of just donation, there are a lot of ways you can impact other people with all the advantages you are granted. Think about all the greatness you are contributing to as the holiday season approaches, whether that is just spare change, helping out at a retirement home, or a dedicated service project.

Have a wonderful holiday season, everyone. May your days be filled with light.