For Westfield High School seniors Joy Binder and Cali Mazzara, participating in the school's Community Service Club has been an enriching and illuminating experience.
The two said the club, which meets every Tuesday, has been an avenue for them to give back to the community. Simultaneously, they have gained a deeper understanding of the needs surrounding them.
The 40-member club regularly makes sandwiches and collects clothing for the Summit-based Bridges organization.
"It's definitely opened my eyes up to how much poverty exists close to us that I was previously unaware of," said Binder.
"I think Bridges is my favorite volunteer experience that I've done with the Community Service Club," Mazzara said. "I feel like it's so rewarding to be able to go and make an effort to clothe and feed the homeless.
"And, as Joy said, it's really scary to think that it's going on so close to where we live and we almost take for granted that this goes on on a daily basis. Any attempt that we can make to help make their lives better by just giving them a simple bagged lunch or some clothing is really rewarding."
At the end of 2011, the co-presidents completed their most successful coat drive yet, collecting 482 coats to donate to Bridges.
"It was great and we were very excited about that," Mazzara said.
Another activity that the seniors agreed is a great outreach program involves bringing the high school jazz band to local senior citizen homes.
"They love it because a lot of these senior homes don't get a lot entertainment and they get to interact with the students, too, which is great," Binder said.
"It's a really rewarding volunteer program that we run because the seniors really love socializing with us and we sort of make their day almost. So they can enjoy the artwork or the performances and also still talk to us at the same time," Mazzara added.
Binder said she is expanding the program to include high school dancers who will perform jazz and ballet pieces.
The volunteers said they particularly enjoy any event that the club can participate in as group because it builds a sense of camaraderie. The co-presidents said they are glad that the club has many underclassmen this year who have offered some fresh ideas.
"A lot of new members said they wanted to help animals," Binder said. "We are going to try to coordinate with a local animal shelter--either having some sort of donation or drive where we can give useful items to them or where we can go and actually volunteer at a shelter."
When they aren't busy with the Community Service Club, the two share their love of giving back with other service organizations.
Mazzara also tutors for the National Honor Society and is involved in student government, which provides ample opportunity for community service, she said.
Binder is also co-president of the Environmental Club and has recently started a styrofoam recycling campaign that she said has been "overwhelmingly successful."
After encouraging students to recycle styrofoam cafeteria trays, the environmental club passes them on to ensure that they are used again for items such as floral holders.
"I saw an ad in the newspaper for the company and I thought it was just wonderful because nobody recycles styrofoam," she said. "We also had one (a collection) for the holiday foam because a lot of people get gifts packed in foam."
Binder also is part of the Transitions program in which upperclassmen mentor freshman and help them adjust to high school.
The two look forward to continuing the service work while in college.
Mazzara, who has not made her college selection yet, said she will focus on hunger as the primary issue she'd like to address.
Binder, who will head to Mount Holyoke in the fall, is "open to anything."
"I think there are so many areas that need assistance," she said. "I'm also into biology, so I like researching different cures for possible diseases in developing countries. That really interests me."
The Community Service Club benefits from the support and inspiration of faculty advisor and WHS English teacher Warren Hynes, the co-presidents agreed.
Hynes explained that past presidents and members of the club have gone on to continue their community service work in third world countries, helping in a variety of ways that include sustainable farming and medical research.
The advisor said while many former members return for an end-of-the-year event, he would like to encourage them speak about their work in the world beyond Westfield.
"He's amazing," said Binder of Hynes. "He's the reason the club is the success that it is."