At Holton, community engagement isn’t about showing up somewhere to help out once in a while. As US Community Engagement Coordinator Emily Wilde shared during an US assembly in early November, it’s about something much deeper and broader; it’s about building true connections, “opening ourselves up to new perspectives, figuring out how we can prevent injustices and address the community’s needs.”
Six US students had an opportunity during the assembly to discuss their efforts in the community and how they are cultivating these vital skills.
Alyssa Wang ’21 is founder and president of the Young Golfers Care nonprofit organization. She created this opportunity because she loves golf and wanted to help address the lack of diversity within the sport. “I loved the mental-challenge and meticulousness of the game,” she said, “but sometimes I would look around only to notice I was the youngest, the only girl, and the only person of color: sometimes, I felt like I did not belong. So, by initiating the organization in 2018 with one of the main missions to spread the game to people of all backgrounds and identities, I, and now many other young golfers like me, strive to make the game more accessible, inclusive, and diverse.” The organization has partnered with other nonprofits for collaborations, including hurricane relief and producing an award-winning documentary for veterans’ rehabilitation through golf. With over 40 high school volunteers, Young Golfers Care hosted free summer golf clinics and just held its first tournament, providing participants with an important, safe, and fun outlet during the pandemic and raising interest in the game. The clinics also raised funds; attendees donated more than $2,500, which supported Montgomery County Public Schools, helping supply 256 students with virtual learning supplies.
Ema Nakayama ’21 created Storytelling STEAM, a project to create picture books about science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) to spark curiosity in young children with limited access to STEAM education resources. She was inspired to launch the effort after recording read-alouds for the Literacy Lab, which aims to address disparities in literacy and educational foundations. “Though definitely not a replacement for actual science and math education at school, I think non-traditional storytelling is a learning method that can be an impactful, engaging, and imagination promoting,” Ema said. Due to her strong belief that access and introduction to these topics at an early age is critical to students’ later interest in STEAM, she has made her picture books and resources are available for free downloading.
A Congressional Award recipient last winter, Emma Scielzo ’21 explained the requirements and process to be eligible for this honor. The program is non-partisan, voluntary, and non-competitive, with everyone working toward their own goals, including not only community service, but also physical fitness, personal development, and a five-day exploration/expedition. Passionate about the health and wellness of teen girls, Scielzo started a nonprofit three years ago that provides resources for teen girls and an annual workshop. She also volunteers with Bethesda Cares, Children’s National Hospital, and Horizons of Greater Washington, completing over 475 hours of service.
Maya Lall ’23 completed the School’s Social Innovators Program over the summer, which gives students the tools and structure to create a social entrepreneurship project. She noted that many senior citizens have struggled with technology during the pandemic, so decided to create YouTube videos on topics ranging from how to use Zoom, to how to order groceries and other products online. She reaches out to seniors in her neighborhood to generate ideas for what may be the most helpful.
Ava Risser ’21 works with Grassroots Soccer, which leverages the power of soccer to help at-risk youth in developing countries to overcome health challenges, live healthier, more productive lives, and be agents for change in their communities. To support the organization, Risser organized a soccer tournament at Holton in her sophomore year, raising over $5,000 and bringing all three divisions together to raise awareness. Due to the pandemic, instead of the tournament she organized an individual 5K fundraiser, which also turned out to be a great success, raising over $7,500. She plans to continue producing these events to engage with Grassroots Soccer.
Alyssa DeSarbo ’23 had been raising money for a couple of years through bake sales to raise money for Children’s National and Children’s Miracle Network. These organizations took notice of her work and introduced her to the Dance Marathon Project, which raises money to support pediatric medicine and research projects. DeSarbo is bringing the Dance Marathon to Holton; it will be online this year, with small events and seminars throughout the year and one main event in the spring.
With these students’ stories serving as inspiration, Wilde challenged Upper Schoolers to continue looking around, listening, and identifying real needs in their communities—needs that are only growing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. “What can you do to make an impact?”