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As a group of Scarsdale High School seniors headed to Mississippi a few weeks ago to help rebuild houses still destroyed after Hurricane Katrina, several others went to Ghana on a very different type of community service trip. Casey Russo, Brett Pearl, and Noah Ahles went to Ghana with teacher chaperones Seth Evans and Elizabeth Karambelkar from June 11th to June 21st. The purpose of the trip was to help people learn how to set up and use mosquito nets properly so as to prevent being bitten by mosquitoes at night, thus reducing their risk of getting malaria.

Malaria is a preventable disease but sadly causes almost 500 million illnesses yearly and kills more than 1 million of those infected. As the organization Netsforlife describes, “When insecticide-treated nets are used properly by three-quarters of the people in a community, malaria transmission is cut by 50%, child deaths are cut by 20%, and the mosquito population drops by as much as 90%...It is estimated that less than 5% of children in sub-Saharan Africa currently sleep under any type of insecticide-treated net.” Bed nets are a simple solution to malaria: if you reduce the contact people have with mosquitoes, you reduce the transmission of malaria.

The students got involved in the trip after Mr. Evans gave a presentation earlier in the year about this amazing opportunity available. The application process for the trip was relatively easy, said Ahles, due to a lack of many interested students. However, just as it seemed it would be in Evans’ presentation, the trip truly was amazing. The group spent most of their time when they were not hanging nets sightseeing and exploring the area. This was the first time Scarsdale High School had offered this trip to students, so a lot of the trip understandably entailed figuring out plans and arranging things as it went along. When the group hung nets, it usually took the entire day in teams of four to hang only 15 nets. While the goal of the trip was for the students to help with the nets, they in fact did much more than that. When they were not hanging nets, they brought medical supplies to a small village called Kwei Kro, went to a health clinic at one of the schools and helped with health screenings, worked with Danielle Butin, founder of the Afya Foundation, as she analyzed what supplies were needed and could be sent over to the area, visited the Cape Coast, where the slave trade in Ghana began, and even visited a rainforest. One unique experience was when the students met a tribal chief and were thanked by a drumming ceremony after the group donated medical supplies.

The living conditions the students were in were very comfortable. The group had home cooked meals three times a day, their laundry done for them, and even had wireless internet. The trip was incredibly memorable to the students. As Ahles explained, “I would absolutely recommend the trip to anyone. It was much more than just a school trip. The different things we got to do besides actually putting up the nets were incredible, and all of the people we met were beyond hospitable and welcoming. I’ve never felt more comfortable or safe.”

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STEP hosted a graduation party for its 2010 Scarsdale High School Grad David Bougard. Family and friends gathered at Anna Decker’s home to celebrate David’s many achievements. In speaking to his entire STEP family at the graduation party, David emotionally acknowledged all the love and support he has received from so many members of the community.

Scarsdale’s Tom and Terese Hunersen have been David’s host family since September, 2008. Their three children Will, Kara, and Chelsea helped David adjust to life in Scarsdale, introducing them to friends and adopting him as their brother. David’s two year stay has also been supported by STEP which is totally funded by community contributions and run by an enthusiastic board of volunteers currently co-chaired by Michelle Lichtenberg and Liz Gruber. The STEP board helps the local family by providing guidance, transportation, tutoring, resources and support.

For those unfamiliar with STEP (Scarsdale Transfer Education Plan), it was founded in 1966 and is a community program that identifies promising students of color from throughout the U.S. enabling them to attend Scarsdale High School for their junior and senior years. The students live with a local family and become part of the entire community. By offering these students exposure to the opportunities and challenges of Scarsdale High School, STEP helps them prepare for college and develop skills that will help them throughout their lives.

Chatrese Smith, David’s mother, who travelled here for graduation, spoke of the difficulty of letting David go away for the last two years. “One day David came home and said, “I’m going to New York for school next year.” Of course, I thought he was joking. But several days later, this woman with a French accent (Beatrice Rocca Stein) called me and started talking about the STEP program. David had heard about it from a former STEP student (Darrian Mumphrey) and I just knew I had to let him go. He’s grown so much and had opportunities I just couldn’t provide for him in Memphis. Now he’s going off to Lehigh University in the fall…I couldn’t be prouder! I am so grateful to the Hunersens and Scarsdale for all they have done for David."

If you would like to contribute or be involved with STEP, please email Michelle Lichtenberg at michelle.lichtenberg@gmail.com. For additional information you can also check out the STEP website at: www.step2scarsdale.org

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This summer, 16 year-old SHS junior Glenn Berke will bike across the United States to raise money for the Hemophilia Association of New York (HANY). Berke will be riding with a group of ten teens and two college students organized by a program called Overland Summers. He will spend six weeks pedaling over 3,000 miles in a cross-country trek from Tybee Island, Georgia to Santa Monica, California.

During the 3,012 mile trip across the southern United States, Berke will bike an average of 80 miles a day and sleep at campsites along the way. The trip begins June 25th, so he will leave right after school ends.

Berke was inspired to take the trip by a close friend who has hemophilia. According to Berke, “before I reach the Pacific, I know I’ll have scraped a knee or elbow or collected a few bumps and bruises along the way…minor injuries that might be a more serious story for kids who have hemophilia."

You can help Glenn meet his $5,000 goal by contributing to the Association online or by check payable to HANY and sent to "Biking Challenge", Hemophilia Association of New York, Suite 506, 110 East 40th Street, New York, NY 10016. To learn more, click here: http://www.hemophilia-newyork.org/berkebikes.html

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Twenty-two Scarsdale High School seniors and four SHS teachers travelled to Bay St. Louis, Mississippi on June 14 to help build homes for those in need. This was the fifth year of the trip – a tradition that began when Scarsdale adopted the Bay St. Louis –Waveland School District after Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005. Initially, Scarsdale residents came together in the wake of the storm and held a benefit to provide funds to Bay St. Louis residents. In the spring of 2006 a delegation from Bay St. Louis came to visit Scarsdale and in June, 2006 the first group of Scarsdale high school seniors travelled to Mississippi to volunteer.

This year fourteen girls, eight boys and four teachers flew down to work with Habitat for Humanity on home construction. The chaperones were SHS teachers Mr. Borgia, Mr. Caie, Mrs. LaSalle and Mrs. Celentano who lead the trip and worked alongside the students. The group left Scarsdale at 5:30 am on Monday June 14 to begin their trip on a flight to New Orleans. They were met at the airport by vans and stopped in New Orleans for a lunch of beignets at the Café DuMonde and to explore the French Quarter.  They also toured the lower 9th ward of New Orleans and were surprised that five years after the storm little has been done. They saw houses in ruins, garbage and neglect and were surprised at the poverty.

The group then boarded the vans for Mississippi, where they moved into the Mission on the Bay, run by Lutheran Episcopal Services. Also in residence at the mission were groups of volunteers from all over the country as well as individuals who came on their own to help. Housed in bunks the kids shared shelter, meals, card games and the rewarding experience of learning to construct homes.

Each day, they rose at 6:30 am, were fed breakfast in the mission cafeteria and then packed their own lunches. The first day the group was taken to a house that was almost completed to do some of the finishing work. Under the supervision of the staff of Habitat for Humanity the kids quickly learned to caulk, prime and paint the exterior and the interior and to build a shed. On Day Two, the group was taken to a workshop where they prepared elements of the homes they would construct in the following days. They cut wood and wires and hammered frames, honing their carpentry skills in preparation for the build.

On Day Three, they loaded the heavy pre-built frames into trucks and were transported to a site where Habitat for Humanity is building 40 new homes. For the next few days, the students worked at the site, building the homes. They installed a sub-floor and built a porch. It was very hot and buggy and some got sunburned, suffered from heat rashes and bug bites. However, the students enjoyed the work, knowing that they were helping to provide shelter for the homeless.

Though many of the students did not know each other before the trip, the group quickly bonded and got along well.

In the words of SHS Senior Jessie Gatof, “The trip was very valuable because all of the students on the trip were there because we wanted to be… not because we could write it on our college applications. It really felt like we were helping. I spent one whole day installing a wood floor in a house and thought of the family who would live there. “  According to Allie Ellman, also a senior at SHS, "The trip was such an amazing experience, not only because we helped build homes for those who had lost theirs but also because we bonded as a group. Now that we are back in Scarsdale, we will always remember working together and share that experience."

In a recent speech given at Scarsdale High School, Nicholas Kristof said that those who engage in public service become the beneficiaries, as helping others can be a source of personal fulfillment. These students and teachers demonstrated how serving those in need could be deeply gratifying as well.

Read testimonials about past trips from Scarsdale students here:

This article was based on information supplied by SHS senior, Jessie Gatof.

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Scarsdale residents are encouraged to participate in the Westchester County Food Drive, which will be held on Tuesday, June 22nd and Wednesday, June 23rd at many locations throughout the county.

For hungry families in Westchester, summer is an especially critical time of year as food pantry and soup kitchen supplies run low. The number of households requesting assistance from the emergency feeding network at Food Bank has gone up 22 percent in the last year alone.

As a participant in this effort, The Village of Scarsdale will have a donation box available located in the Village Hall lobby to accept canned and other non-perishable food on 6/22 and 6/23. Donated food will then be distributed to 181 local organizations, like soup kitchens, shelters and food pantries, by Westchester County’s partner, Food Bank for Westchester or directly to a local food agency.
The most needed food items are:

Cereals: hot or cold (corn flakes, frosted flakes, fruit loops, oat meal, grits)

Meats and high protein groups

  • Canned meats: spam, ham, meat spread, beef stew, chicken, and corned beef
  • Canned fish: tuna, salmon, sardines, mackerel
  • Canned or dry beans: kidney, lentils, butter beans, great northern, lima
  • Canned soups: with beans, chicken, ham or beef
  • Peanut butter
  • Macaroni and cheese
  • Canned ravioli
  • Canned spaghetti and meat balls

Beverages

  • Drink mixes: iced tea, Kool Aid, Tang
  • 100 percent juices in plastic bottle or can
  • Milk: canned or powdered
  • Canned juices
  • Coffee or tea
  • Hot chocolate

Fruits and vegetables

  • Canned fruits
  • Canned vegetables
  • Canned spaghetti sauce
  • Dried fruits: raisins, apricots, prunes

Pasta and grains

  • Rice: rice mixes and plain rice
  • Pasta: pasta mixes and plain pasta

Health and beauty supplies are also being accepted.

For further information, contact the Village Clerk’s office at 722-1175 or Westchester County Office of Communications at 995-6355.

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