BY KRISTIN SCHULTZ
SCHENECTADY — Feb. 2 was cold and blustery but that didn’t stop 16 students from spreading a bit of warmth to downtown Schenectady.
Niskayuna and Schenectady high schools boarded a Capital District Transit Authority bus with boxes full of winter scarves, pairs of gloves and ear warmers and headed to State Street in Schenectady. The afternoon would mark the first joint service project between the two schools since they started meeting together earlier this school year, most recently at a three-day leadership training in conjunction with the Anti-Defamation League. The goal of the meetings is to foster a better relationship and understanding between the schools.
“We live so close to each other and go to school just a couple miles down the road, but don’t know anything about each other,” said Schenectady High School freshman Liv McLeron. “It’s really cool to collaborate on a project like this.”
The group decided that, in addition to attending joint training sessions on issues like bullying, diversity and leadership, the two schools should work to make a difference in the community.
“The leadership training was great. We all built on each other’s ideas,” said Niskayuna sophomore Tess McGrinder.
Niskayuna and Schenectady students collected a total of 500 winter clothing articles, and spent two hours after school getting off and back on the CDTA bus, leaving scarves at locations along a State Street bus route.
Niskayuna Spanish teacher and facilitator Monica DiCocco passed out cookies, doughnut holes and boxes of Yoo-Hoo to students as they sat down on the bus. Some of them were pinning pre-printed notes of hope onto the scarves. “I was not forgotten here and neither are you. We hope this scarf brings you warmth,” read one message. “I am not lost. If you need this to stay warm, take it — it is yours. Stay warm and pay it forward when you can,” read another.
The bus arrived at Liberty Park in Schenectady’s lower downtown, and the students spilled out, scarves in hand. They scattered throughout the area, tying scarves around anything they could find — hand railings, light poles, sign posts and bus stop structures.
“It doesn’t take effort to tie scarves,” said DiCocco. “It doesn’t take a lot of effort to show compassion.”
Eileen King, a freshman at Niskayuna, agreed. “It’s cold but it’s really worth it.”
The compassion continued on to the downtown/train station stop, where posts and railings again were adorned with scarves. It was at the final stop, at State and Steuben streets, that the high schoolers witnessed the direct impact of their simple gesture.
Schenectady senior Jessica Grant recognized a homeless man she has seen in her own neighborhood. She crossed the street to give him a scarf directly.
“I didn’t know how he would react. Sometimes people get mad when you try to help or give them things,” she said. “I didn’t know if he would cuss at me or yell at me or anything.”
The man did neither. He accepted her gift, tied on the scarf and said, “God bless you.”
“I almost lost it,” Grant said.
As the bus pulled away to return to Schenectady High School, a man walking down the street untied a scarf from a light pole and put it on. Then, he untied another scarf and gave it to the woman with whom he was walking. All the while, the students looked out the bus windows, watching their efforts deliver immediate results.
“Those will all be gone by tonight,” said CDTA bus driver Fernando Gaspar Rodriguez. “This is a place that many homeless hang out.”
Coming together both to learn and impact the community has proved a powerful experience that has changed how students at each school view their counterparts.
“We’re not that different,” said Niskayuna junior Sophia Holbein. “We like the same things and appreciate differences. We support each other.”
“The students have really formed friendships,” said Anne-Marie Warren, a co-facilitator at Schenectady High School. “They’ve seen that they’re all human and that we all have similar struggles. Nobody’s life is perfect.”
Schenectady and Niskayuna high schools will continue serving the community, possibly at a service day in late spring 2017.