By Gaby Maldonado
At White Plains High School, a student organization is making a difference in the lives of refugees, creating a sense of community and compassion. The Students 4 Refugees (S4R) club, which has a mission of inclusivity, shared insights into their initiatives and plans for the future.
Describing their club in three words -- Community, Inclusive, and Compassionate -- the S4R Co-President, Emily Portillo, and Co-Vice president, Anastasiia Kazantseva, emphasized their dedication to helping refugees in any way possible. Working with the non-profit organization Hearts for Homes, the group participates in different activities like fundraising, raising awareness, and volunteer work.
“I think it's really important that we do it because we're proving to the whole society that even though we're still in high school, we are aware of the outside surroundings and the outside world, that people have troubles and challenges, and we are trying to help them in any way we can,” said Anastasiia.
The club recently held several drives, such as their ongoing Love Your Neighbor Drive, which focuses on hygiene and household goods. They also organized a winter drive that collected jackets, clothes, and shoes. These projects aim to improve the well-being of the refugee community and support families in need.
S4R stands out because of their commitment to educating the next generation. Members visited Mamaroneck Avenue School to speak to fifth graders, reading a book that examines the concept of refugees. The club plans to continue this project in the spring, maintaining an effort to educate and create awareness about the obstacles refugees face.
“We asked them general questions like ‘what do you think a refugee is?’, in addition to asking them several questions throughout the book. It was to bring more awareness that a refugee is something that's everlasting and that it's something that happens,” said Emily. Furthermore, S4R prioritizes both fun and laughter. The club hosts many fun activities that build a friendly and encouraging environment for every member.
“We do our best to ensure that students are coexisting together and having fun. I remember we did the Walk-a-Mile for Tiger Community, and that was so much fun. Or when we sold multicultural candy. Everybody brought in candies from their own ethnicity and honestly, some candies were kind of good!” said Anastasiia.
The club's advisors are also essential in creating a sense of family among the group. Ms. Harris and Madame LeBlanc, who were described as "the sweetest teachers ever" make sure that every student feels heard and valued.
When explaining their overall goal, S4R stated that they wanted to do more than just garner sympathy for refugees. Their goal is to create an environment in which refugees are viewed as equals who should be given a fair start, rather than being seen as burdens.
S4R invites its members to take part in the joy that comes with helping others, emphasizing that small acts can make a significant impact on someone's life.
“Refugees came here from a country with nothing, and you're just helping them with something. It means a lot to them, more than you would expect,” said Emily.
As the club looks to the future, they hope to grow the number of members, hold more drives, and work with different organizations that go beyond providing help to refugees.
Students 4 Refugees stands out as an symbol of enthusiasm and success within White Plains High School.