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Sayville students honored for helping homeless

Sunrise Drive Elementary School students Doug and Kelly

Sunrise Drive Elementary School students Doug and Kelly Read, and Carleigh O'Donoghue present their student council's "Blankets and Books" drive at the annual Long Island Service Learning Expo at Nassau County Community College. Credit: Handout

The students at Sunrise Drive Elementary School knew they were working for a good cause as they tediously tied the fringed edges of fleece squares to make blankets and collected books from people in their community.

But it wasn’t until they delivered the end results to families at a Bellport homeless shelter last spring that the message really resonated, said Carleigh O’Donoghue, 12, of Sayville, who participated as a fifth-grader last year.

As she and her peers handed out blankets, the children who received them would turn around and run to their parents to show it off, she said.

“It was kind of sad to see how excited the kids were to get a blanket,” she said. “To us, it wouldn’t be that much.”

Carleigh was one of about 80 children from the elementary school’s student council who were recently recognized for last year’s “Blankets and Books Drive,” said Principal Rose Castello. The project was a part of the 2010-2011 Newsday FutureCorps, which promotes student community service projects.

The students, many of whom are now in middle school, presented the project to the executive board of the Long Island Service Learning Network at its annual expo on April 26.

They won the night’s top recognition in the elementary school category and also won the Joan Imhof Memorial Award, for which they were chosen over middle school, high school and college students. They won a total of $200 for the charity of their choice.

Stan Friedland, a member of the executive board of the service learning network, said Joan Imhof was the founder of the Long Island Volunteer Center and a project manager for Newsday’s FutureCorps program for 10 years. She died in December.

“This is the very first year we’ve given out this award and it was to a very worthy recipient,” he said, adding that 12 groups participated and more than half were from colleges.

Castello said she was also proud of the way the students presented themselves at the expo.

“To see a group of 10- and 11-year-olds stand up and explain their project and what they learned,” Castello said, “it was one of the most rewarding nights I’ve been to in a long time.”

Friedland said the judges, himself included, were impressed by the elementary students’ commitment to their project, their assessment of an actual need in their community and their evaluation of the project in journals afterward.

Carleigh said she learned a lot from visiting the homeless shelter, where they were given a tour and were allowed to play in the courtyard with the children who lived there.

Carleigh said she and her classmates were excited to be singled out for their drive, but they were surprised to win the Imhof award.

“We sat down and thought, ‘I guess we’re done for the night,’ ” she said. “Then when they called our name again, we were shocked.”

She said the board told them they were impressed with the project because of the sense of awareness it brought to the children involved.

“I think they liked it because we realized that something small like that to us ended up being so great to them,” Carleigh said.


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