Volunteer Pioneers: Students serve their community during the pandemic


Photo provided by Sam Winkler

Sophomore Sam Winkler clears a fallen tree branch from a local park. As part of his community service, Winkler works with Weed Warriors, an organization that removes invasive plants from the community.

Eva Bard, Arts and Entertainment Editor

A face mask, a face shield and hand-sanitizer are all necessities for junior Talia Jacobson to complete her community service at a non-profit bridal shop called Fairytale Brides on a Shoestring. Working indoors for Jacobson means two to five hour shifts without taking off her mask, besides to get a quick sip of water or a bite to eat.

Community service during the pandemic looks much different than it once did. From fully virtual programs, to in-person, COVID-19-safe projects, students are still working hard to serve the community.

CESJDS has changed its community service policy during the pandemic, eliminating the requirement of 40 service hours working directly with people in need. Students are now permitted to earn their 80 required service hours in any form of service.

With restrictions loosening, many indoor activities for community service have resumed with safety precautions. At Fairytale Brides on a Shoestring, Jacobson organizes the shop and helps future brides find their gown. This bridal shop takes wedding dress donations, sells them at a lower cost and donates all profit to a variety of charities.

“Even though we have to do community service hours, I want to do something fun and that I even want to do after I get all the hours,” Jacobson said.

On the other hand, many organizations, such as Teens with Heartsongs, have designed their programs to be fully virtual. A group of JDS high-schoolers makes up only a fraction of the students participating in this program to raise money for the Children’s National Hospital housing program. Junior Mira Beinart is the Director of Housing for the JDS team and is responsible for organizing the team’s fundraising projects.

“It’s really important, especially now, during COVID since there is a bit of a financial crisis .… People that have kids in the hospital, that’s like a baseline stresser, and not having to deal with the travel and housing of where they need to be, takes one thing off the parent’s shoulders, and I think that is really nice,” Beinart said.

Friendship Circle, an organization that many JDS students participate in, has adjusted its program to a hybrid model. Friendship Circle pairs students with special needs with other teens in the area. During the shutdown, Friendship Circle stopped its typical weekly indoor events and has since created a program with options for both socially distant and online events.

Teens that already participated in the organization, like senior Aiden Kirsh, were able to continue their relationship with their buddies through the pandemic. Kirsh has spent time with his buddy on FaceTime and even invited his buddy’s family over for an outdoor, socially-distant meal, where Kirsh made his buddy blueberry pancakes.

“Every time I hang out with my buddy he always gets really excited to see me, and he’s always 100 percent there and happy to do whatever we wanna do. … it’s just nice to be able to hang out with them and make their day,” Kirsh said.

Aside from virtual community service, outdoor activities also offer students a safe way to complete their required hours. Weed Warriors, an organization run by JDS wrestling coach Chuck Woolery, works to remove invasive plants from parks in the Rockville area.

“It’s fun, it’s a good workout and it also a good place to talk to some friends,” sophomore Sam Winkler, who volunteers with the group, said.