Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Night Featured in the Daily Hampshire Gazette

Hilltown Families event at Bridge Street School
links community service and family fun
By Barbara Solow, Daily Hampshire Gazette

NORTHAMPTON (Dec 3, 2012) — City resident Margaret Martin said she brought her two granddaughters, 9 and 6, to a community event at Bridge Street School last Friday to “get them out and about and helping people.”

Victoria Worth of Ashfield was there with her 9-year-old daughter to learn more about the work of local social service agencies.

Phoebe Burch, also 9, of Petersham, said she came with her mom and two younger siblings because “it’s important to make other people happy.”

The Nov. 30 Community Service Night, hosted by Hilltown Families, drew more than 150 families to the city elementary school on Parsons Street. From 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., Bridge Street’s cafeteria was transformed into a one-stop volunteer station, where participants worked on simple, hands-on service projects for local nonprofits.

Organizations benefiting from the first-time service night were the Northampton Survival Center, Highland Valley Elder Services, Safe Passage and Baystate Children’s Hospital.

Tabletop projects ranged from tying knots for “no sew” fleece blankets to creating care bags for sick children. After visiting each station, participants got special service “passports” stamped by members of the Northampton High School Key Club, who were volunteer staffers for the event.

Jara Malikin of Northampton said she learned of the service night through the Hilltown Families online network.

“It sounded like so much fun,” said Malikin, whose two children, Alex, 6, and Maren, 3, were busy decorating placemats for clients of Highland Valley Elder Services.

“It’s hard to find service events where children can fully participate — especially for a 3 and a half year old,” Malikin said.

She watched as Maren put stickers on her placemat and Alex expertly penned “Happy Holidays” on his.

“Next they’ll be laminated and then — where will they go?” Alex asked.

“They’ll go to Highland Valley Elder services,” explained Emma West, an NHS senior and Key Club member, who was operating the laminating machine.

Sienna Wildfield, founder and director of Hilltown Families, said she read about a community service night in Minneapolis and decided the event was a perfect fit for the Pioneer Valley.

“Service learning, where children explore community service, is a big piece of this,” she said. “It’s also a chance for businesses and nonprofits to collaborate to make a difference in the community.”

Among the sponsors of Friday’s event were Florence and Greenfield Savings Banks, the Northampton Reuse Committee, A2Z Learning Store, Ashfield Hardware, Knack creative reuse center, Whole Foods and the Northampton public schools.

Hatfield’s Children’s Librarian Cheri Hardy said she got involved in hopes of recruiting more members for the library’s year-old Youth Action Committee, which is open to residents of any area town.

“In return, I agreed to read stories,” said Hardy, whose station in the Bridge Street School library was humming at 5:30 p.m.

At a nearby table, Ashfield residents Victoria Worth and her daughter, Charlotte, were working on the no-sew blankets.

“It’s important to learn that even a small, simple action can make a difference,” Victoria said. “Especially at this time of year, we’re all very attuned to giving back to our community.”

“Mom, did you stamp your passport?” 9-year-old Charlotte reminded her.

In the hallway, Jonah Hahn, an NHS senior and president of the Key Club, was helping direct foot traffic with classmate Daniel Esrick.

Hahn said club members were eager to be involved in an event aimed at teaching youngsters about volunteering.

“Teenagers have a lot easier access to community service than younger kids,” he noted. “It’s important for kids to be able to see how their projects will be used and that the people they’re helping are local.”

Upstairs, Phoebe Burch, 9, of Petersham, was decorating a can to make a flower pot at the “Winter Blossoms “ station staffed by the founders of Knack. Participants could take the pots home or donate them to a community member or public space.

It was the third stop of the night for Phoebe, her mom, Zoe, and sisters, Maisie, 5 and Amelia, 3.

“I think this event is a really good idea,” said Zoe Burch, whose children are homeschooled. “We’re getting a lot of ideas for things we can do on our own.”

Phoebe said she was excited about the service night because, “I really care about people who have less than we do. I feel lucky.”

What was her favorite volunteer station?

“I’m not sure till I finish them all,” Phoebe said. Hilltown Families’ Family Community Service Night.

Copyright GazetteNet.com. Reprinted with permission.

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