Helping Hands' 40 enthusiastic members can be called on to assist with any job, big or small, but they especially like a good cause, and over the years have raised thousands of dollars in different ways to help leukemia and cancer patients.
"Anytime anyone needs help with anything, we're there; that's why we're the Helping Hands," said club advisor Karen Martino, a middle school science teacher.
The students run the club, deciding which projects to pursue and meeting with school administrators to discuss their ideas and gain permission to follow through on them. "They're the liaison between me and the administration," Ms. Martino said.
The club's officers are all sophomores and include Hannah Halligan, president; Alexia Iuni, vice president; Nicole Ciccotelli, secretary; and Nikki Marmo and Kristin Portsmouth, who share the job of treasurer. Helping Hands meets after school on alternate Wednesdays.
"We have very dedicated students who come back every year and want to help out in any way they can," Ms. Martino said.
Every Penny Counts
One of the club's traditional annual fundraisers is Pennies for Patients, where students collect pennies over a two-week period in the fall to donate to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. The club runs the collection at the Kensico School and rewards the class that raises the most money with a pizza party. This year, the Kensico School raised nearly $800, with the winning class contributing $159 of it. Helping Hands members count every penny, and in prior years, have raised as much as $2,300 at the Kensico School.
In February, club members began selling daffodils to raise money for the American Cancer Society. The popular fundraiser has club members dashing off throughout the school to sign up as many staff members as possible to buy the bright yellow flowers, priced at $10 a bunch. For $25, customers can purchase a stuffed bear with their daffodils. With a larger donation, purchasers can send an anonymous Gift of Hope— a bouquet of 10 daffodil stems in a vase—to a cancer patient. "Many of our staff members actually seek out our members to place their order," Ms. Martino said.
When the daffodils arrive on delivery day, Helping Hands members unpack the flowers and make sure their customers get their order. "It's a big day here!" Ms. Martino said.
The American Cancer Society's Daffodil Days are especially meaningful for Ms. Martino, who was diagnosed with cancer and had a full recovery. The Helping Hands Club participated in Gilda's Club Awareness Day for teens at the Westchester chapter of Gilda's Club, a national organization named for comedian Gilda Radner, who died from cancer in 1989. Gilda's Club Westchester offers free support to anyone affected by cancer.
From February through June, the students are collecting soda can pull tabs to recycle. The money earned will benefit the Ronald McDonald House at Maria Fareri Children's Hospital in Valhalla.
Hard Work Pays Off
While fundraising is a big part of the club's mission, Helping Hands members roll up their sleeves as assistants at the annual PTSA Craft Fair, helping vendors unload and pack up at the end of the day, setting up tables and chairs, and serving refreshments. They've painted the school's snack shack and have donned Valhalla sports gear and sneakers to participate in the five-mile Making Strides Against Breast
Cancer Walk in the fall. During the holiday season, club members collect money for the Salvation Army, taking turns ringing the bell at Shop-Rite in Thornwood.
They've also been busy collecting and counting hundreds of box tops from grocery products that can be redeemed for money, and recently raised $360 with a zumbathon to beautify VMHS. The club plans to replace a glass display case for student art that has seen better days. "They wanted to do something the entire school would benefit from," Ms. Martino said.
A Thousand Origami Cranes
One of the more astounding projects club members worked on with help from the VMHS art department is the folding of 1,000 origami cranes that were sent to Japan by a local Girl Scout troop after last year's devastating tsunami in that country. In Japan, the crane has great cultural significance. Legend has it that folding 1,000 paper cranes makes a person's wish come true. This makes them popular gifts.
"Being a member of this club teaches students to be selfless, to give back to their community and to do something without expecting anything in return," Ms. Martino said. "Our students feel good about helping others and will no doubt carry that experience forward into their own lives."
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