Tuesday, February 9, 2010

1999 - The Willows Reaches Out!

It’s Tuesday night. Across Los Angeles, Willows students are packing not one, but two lunches for the next day. First a sandwich! Then an apple! Maybe a cookie for dessert! The next morning, both lunches make their way to The Willows. One lunch stays in the backpack for lunchtime; the extra goes in a bin just outside the classroom door.

This Tuesday night “extra lunch” routine is a tradition for many Willows students. They’re packing the extra lunches for PATH (People Assisting the Homeless), a non-profit organization that The Willows has partnered with since 1996. The lunches are delivered every Wednesday to the PATH facility in West Los Angeles, and PATH employees distribute them to individuals living at the facility, who are going out on job interviews and gradually working their way out of homelessness.

“Community service and service learning have always been integral parts of The Willows experience,” explains Head of School Lisa Rosenstein. “In The Willows’ early days, we wanted to find an ongoing project that offered kids a regular opportunity to do something tangible to help others. Every child can make a lunch – and we’ve found it to be a great way for kids to learn that there are many different ways to reach out.”

Every Thanksgiving, The Willows community also comes together at their annual Community Day to help PATH. Students bring in donations of travel-size personal care items – soap, shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste – and the children gather with their book buddies in every classroom to assemble toiletry bags that are delivered to the PATH residents.

“There’s a great vibe in the building on the morning of our Community Day,” notes Lower School Director Terri Baird. “The kids love getting together with their book buddies, and as they decorate and assemble the toiletry bags, they can see the results of their hard work. It’s also a great reminder to the kids to be grateful for all the day-to-day routines that they may take for granted, like being able to take a shower or brush their teeth.”

Over the years, The Willows has reached out to the community with a number of school-wide projects. The Willows has partnered with Magnolia School, a nearby public elementary school, on many occasions. Service projects have included a “dictionary drive” to supply new classroom dictionaries, mural-painting for exterior building walls on the Magnolia campus, and establishing a garden. “The focus on hands-on activities has been a great way to bring together current students, parents, and alumni, with projects where everyone can contribute,” says Lisa.

The Willows has also made a concerted effort to reach out to nearby Culver City. “From our very earliest days, Willows kids were participating in the annual Ballona Creek cleanup,” remembers Terri. More recently, The Willows has joined with Culver City to support the Police Department’s Juvenile Diversion program, an innovative, highly successful, hands-on program that helps mentor at-risk teenagers. The Willows’ Tech Department is also helping to coordinate donations of old laptops to the Culver City Police Department, who distributes them to needy families in the area, to the Culver City Youth Center, and to nearby Farragut Elementary School, which is part of the Culver City School District.

Community service is personal at The Willows, even when the school is reaching out internationally. In response to this winter’s tragic earthquake in Haiti, two Willows parents helped to coordinate the “Ten Things for Haiti,” project, in which Willows families brought in staples and essential supplies to be transported to Haiti, including rice, beans, and baby formula. “Watching The Willows community come together to help others is both inspiring and gratifying,” says Lisa Rosenstein. “It sets an incredible example for our children in terms of what it means to be a citizen in our global community.”

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