By Liz Nolan, Contributing Writer
Northborough – Take three enthusiastic eighth-grade students with the idea of a community service project and the result is a successful project that brought awareness to homelessness in Northborough and a smile for recipients on Valentine’s Day.
Robert E. Melican Middle School students Catherine Hayden and Mary Youssef and Worcester Academy student Lily Mikolajczak are Destination Imagination team members for the second year. Destination Imagination, Inc., is a nonprofit organization that provides project-based educational programs to foster creativity and innovation in students. This year, the Northborough team decided to compete in the Service Learning/Project Outreach category to plan and carry out each step of a community event to help meet the goal of their project.
The girls decided that they wanted to incorporate helping the homeless in Northborough and partnered with Friends of Families in Transition, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping homeless families living in hotels until they are relocated to more permanent housing.
The Love Your Neighbor Valentine Drive was organized and with the support of the town elementary schools and middle school, collection bins were placed at each site and the drive was publicized throughout the community via articles, school announcements, flyers and social media.
Other students’ interest in the project prompted discussion, which brought more awareness to the effort and to the homeless in the area.
Donations of toiletries, craft supplies, school snacks, and Valentine’s Day treats were collected and large Valentine bags were filled and distributed to families prior to Valentines Day.
Considering the tight timeline the project had, the team was excited about the results. Over 200 items were collected.
“It went well,” said Hayden. “We received more donations than we ever expected.”
Parent and Destination Imagination team leader Leslie Harrold said, “The girls were overjoyed to see the collection and the outpouring of love and support from the community.”
The process of the team’s project this year made an impact in more ways than one.
“There are a lot more homeless families in Northborough than we thought,” said Hayden. “We felt more in touch with them after this project. It felt good to make a difference.”
The girls also agreed that as they packed the bags, it was hard not to imagine the smiles that would appear on the receiving end.
Mikolajczak said the group also learned time management and teamwork skills as a result of the project.
“It’s also a great way to be with friends,” said Youssef.
The results of their project will be presented at a local tournament Sunday, March 6, at Nashoba Regional High School in Bolton, but to be formally recognized would only add to their sense of accomplishment.
“They’ve already won,” said Harrold. “The community service already achieved their goal.”
Hayden agreed: “We did something real and that matters more than a ribbon.”
To learn more about FFIT, visit friendsoffit.org.