By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — In 15 minutes per day over the course of one week, students at Niskayuna High School will hand craft more than 7,000 small gifts for five different charities.
Junior Rose Parisi, of Ruffner Road in Niskayuna, planned the new schoolwide initiative, dubbed Charity Week, after attending the Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership Foundation conference during the summer of 2014.
It wasn’t Parisi’s first foray into community organization within her high school. In 2013, as a sophomore, she founded a tutoring club called SCOPE, or Student Collaboration of Purposeful Enrichment, after realizing that many students informally tutored each other but often struggled to find dedicated space for their work.
She knew the club was a valuable addition to the school, but recognition was slow in coming. After attending the conference, where she mingled with other student leaders and inspiring adults, she wanted to do something with more impact. That led her to conceive of Charity Week, an opportunity to combine forces with other students to do good in several different sectors of her community.
“We wanted to do something bigger,” Parisi said.
She decided to focus on numbers: If she could think of a small gesture of kindness for five different organizations, she could involve other students and their teachers during their fifteen-minute homeroom periods at the beginning of each day.
From the beginning, she knew she would need the support of the entire school, including teachers and classmates.
“I wanted to make sure it was something that could even work,” she said.
After collaborating with her club’s adviser, former Assistant Principal Mark Treanor, Parisi settled on a wishlist of items to create for altruistic organizations.
On Monday, Feb. 23, students will be able to assemble bookmarks for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. The next day, they will have the opportunity to collaborate on knotted fleece blankets for babies benefitted by Project Linus. On Wednesday, they’ll put together bags of small toys for pediatric patients at Albany Medical Center. On Thursday, breast cancer awareness ribbons will be tied to support the American Cancer Society, and on Friday, students will braid fleece dog toys to donate to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Parisi estimates they’ll make about 1,500 of each item, except for the blankets, because those require a little more labor.
A volunteer experience over the summer at Albany Medical Center served, in part, as inspiration for Parisi. Working on the pediatric floor, she witnessed kids surrounded by family members trying to entertain the bored patients any way they could. Volunteers often brought smiles to kids’ faces by digging into a closet of donated toys during birthdays and weekends.
“That’s why I chose Albany Medical Center’s pediatric floor,” Parisi said.
The high school students will bag toys for the kids, as well as handmade paracord bracelets to dress up their medical ID tags.
In order to fulfill such an ambitious quota, Parisi did quite a lot of preparation.
First, she worked to win commitments from volunteers, who are crucial to the project. They have to prep supplies so homerooms can assemble them, fundraise for materials costs, and deliver boxes of materials to each classroom during Charity Week.
“I thought it would be better to make it a community effort, rather than one club sticking their name on it,” Parisi said. “The hardest part is getting people interested.”
She’s gained supporters by reaching out to specific clubs, who have committed to help as groups, as well as just asking friends to assist.
Parisi put the call to action into print, as well. As news editor of the school newspaper, The Warrior, she was able to secure a column to help promote her cause.
“With the help of Niskayuna High School students, thousands of lives can be improved in the short amount of time homeroom allots,” she wrote.
Finally, she presented at a faculty meeting to make sure all the teachers and administrators were on board with the project.
With volunteers secured, Parisi focused on materials, spending December 2014 requesting supplies from retailers. After donations and discounts, the entire project cost about $600; contributions from other clubs brought the total that needs to be reimbursed down to $400. The group also held a fundraiser at the Niskayuna Co-op in early February that brought in $190 to help defray costs.
Despite all the minutia of preparation, Parisi is energetic and excited about the upcoming completion of her project. She’s also proud of how far her club, SCOPE, has come in less than two years.
“It’s not like we were a big club that’s had a name for a while,” she said. “We had our first activities fair earlier this year.”
Parisi’s leadership will continue after the charity week ends. One batch of supplies, the pink ribbons to be assembled on Thursday, will be sold at the high school to raise money for the American Cancer Society.
Parisi said she’s not sure yet what college her leadership skills may suit, but she does know what she plans to study.
“I definitely want to be a doctor. I’m set on that,” she said. “I think it’s great to devote yourself to something that helps a lot of people every day.”