"Last year we built our service work around a theme for the first time, which brought new focus and understanding to Community Service Day," says Gray. "We decided to continue that, building this year's work around the theme, 'What is your impact?' All of our conversations and activities leading up to Community Service Day will incorporate that concept, encouraging student to really think about what impact the work we do has on people and organizations and neighborhoods we serve."
Working with Community Service Day Fellows Magda Kisielinska '18, Maggie O'Leary '19, Hayley Jubitz '19, and Yejin Kim '18, Gray hopes to fill the week preceding Community Service Day with conversations, opportunities, and activities that will shape thinking and actions around the impact of service.
"The fellows will be developing conversation prompts and service impact facts and taping them to the tables in the dining hall throughout the week to get people talking," Gray explains. "There will also be a banner in the hallway where students can write ideas and share their thoughts about the impact of serving the community, and a week-long "penny war" between classes, where the winning class decides which charity will receive all of the donated coins. Our hope is that it will feel more like a Community Service Week, that culminates in a Community Service Day."
That week kicks off October 26 during Morning Meeting, which, Gray says, is going to feel more like a pep rally than a speech about service.
"In the past the Community Service Day Morning Meeting has mostly featured speeches from the organizers," says Gray. "This year's will be more energetic, and involve all of our students a lot more. We're looking forward to having the jazz band play when people come in, to a performance by the improv group, a rock and roll number that will get people out of their seats, and some cheers led by the school mons."
The week of activities—the "scaffolding"—Gray says, makes for a more meaningful experience for the community.
A new project this year is also, in a sense, scaffolding—it serves as the foundation of a two-year initiative. Director of Financial Aid Michael Hoffman '97 suggested that Taft partner with one of the school's vendors—a tree service—on a project that will directly impact families in need in the community. Hoffman has secured log rounds for three cords of wood and two log splitters. Students will work with faculty to split and stack the wood.
"The same students who split and stack this year will return next year to deliver the dried, seasoned wood to local families," explains Gray. "We will work with area churches and community organizations to identify families in need. It is a really wonderful new project that allows us to directly impact our neighbors."
Taft students will continue their work on the Watertown Greenway, with Waterbury's Neighborhood Housing Services and Girls Inc., and at places like Flanders Nature Center, Habitat for Humanity, the Animal Rescue Foundation, and the Connecticut Food Bank. They will also partner with the Woodbury Senior Center for the first time, where students will spend the morning teaching seniors how to use technology, serve them lunch, then spend the afternoon engaged in intergenerational conversation.
Established in 1995, Community Service Day is an opportunity for students to live Taft's motto, non ut sibi ministretur sed ut ministret, not to be served but to serve. More than 700 Taft students, faculty, and staff members will dedicate their time and talents this year to more than 40 projects at locations across New Haven and Litchfield counties.