July 12, 2017

Do Something Club Makes a Difference With Array of Service Projects at JWMS

GIVING BACK: The Do Something Club at John Witherspoon Middle School is committed to making the school and the world a better place. Rising seventh grade club members (from left) Georgia Hansen, Maya Lerman, and Nina Esteghamat collect contributions for the club and its many initiatives. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Riely)

Partisanship, conflict, rancor, and frustration may characterize the contemporary national political climate, but at John Witherspoon Middle School (JWMS) the members of the Do Something Club are making positive differences in many ways, inside the school and in the larger community.

Causes championed by the dedicated group of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders during the past year have included a warm clothing drive last winter to benefit area children in need; collection of more than 7,000 pounds of food to be distributed by Mercer Street Friends; raising funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (Gold Banner Award); the JWMS Talent Show with proceeds going to the YMCA and the Princeton Parks and Recreation Department for summer scholarships; collaborating with Toobydoo clothing in Palmer Square to donate more than 130 swimsuits to kids to complement their pool scholarships; and many other initiatives.

Computer teacher Kelly Riely, who has been the club advisor over the past 15 years, discussed some of the organization’s accomplishments. “We’re trying to raise active global citizens,” she said. “Being a moral, creative person and giving back to the community. That’s what it’s all about.”

She went on to describe how the students get involved and through the middle school years increasingly develop leadership skills. “These kids come in wanting to be part of it and take direction,” she noted. “It’s a mentoring program. They guide each other and go from listening to leading by seventh or eighth grade.”

The club meets two or three mornings each week. “The kids come in, sit around the table, and generate ideas,” whether it’s a big food drive for Mercer Street Friends, a clothing drive, Toys for Tots during the holiday season, or fundraising for leukemia and lymphoma. Everyday activities include bake sales, pretzel sales, announcements, making posters, and assembly presentations. In one week last year the club raised $5,000.

“This group is the backbone of the school,” Ms. Riely said. “We talk about marketing and event planning, connecting with the whole school, and getting everybody involved. These students become the event planners, researchers, and marketing experts. Do Something has become part of the culture and climate at John Witherspoon.”

Ms. Riely described the operation of the club as “fluid,” with a core group of about 15 students meeting regularly, an additional 15 or 20 joining in occasionally, and always the opportunity for groups to come to meetings to pitch ideas for new service projects. “If they have an idea we work with them to give them ownership and help them develop their idea,” she said.

Rising seventh grader Maya Lerman described how she joined Do Something last year because “it sounded like a fun experience,” and she wanted “to give back to the community.” She helped to organize a drive to collect money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. “That made a difference,” she said. “‘We got everyone at school excited about it.”

Noting the incentive of the competition, she added, “The class that collected the most money won a prize. Middle schoolers are very competitive. People want to win.”

Looking forward to taking the initiative to “do something” again next year, Maya concluded, “It’s important because it helps make a difference outside of your own life. It also helps the students come together, working on service projects.”

Sonja Lips, owner and CEO of Toobydoo, is also looking forward to working with Do Something again in the next school year with a fall clothing drive and the bathing suits in the spring.

“It was beautiful,” she said. “It was really touching.”

Praising Ms. Riely’s inspirational leadership and the important work of Do Something, Ms. Lips pointed out, “It’s wonderful what they do for the community. They take on so many initiatives. Kelly and I are seeing more ways going forward to give back to the community. It makes you feel good.”