By Chelsea Davis-Bibb, M.Ed.
HOUSTON- Albert Schweitzer stated, “I don’t know what our destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” Serving others is just what the 9thgrade students of Eisenhower High School’s iASPIRE program did as they put together an Ugly Christmas Sweater Party for a group of eight veteran women at the St. Maria Women’s Hostile.
The iASPIRE program is a college initiative program that started with Aldine ISDand YES Prep. The purpose of the program is to increase students’ college knowledge. Students enter the program in the ninth grade, and remain in the program for the rest of their high school journey. The students are a part of the program one semester their 9thand 10thgrade year, and then an entire year for their 11thand 12thgrade year. In this program, students are able to research different colleges and universities, apply for scholarships, take college visits and learn about special careers. Many students start preparing for college their junior and senior year, but in the iASPIRE program, students are able to prepare starting their freshman year.
One important element of this program that students must complete is community service. The students of this program were in charge of coming up with their own community service event. After researching different places within their community to serve, the students decided to plan an ugly Christmas sweater program for the group of eight women at the St. Maria Women’s Hostile. The St. Maria Women’s Hostile is a place of independent living for those who are recovering from different issues. This place is designed for transitional living, and the people who live there are only permitted to live there for a short period of time.
Ms. Chinara Hunter,who is the 9thgrade teacher for the program at Eisenhower High School wanted the students to serve in a meaningful way. Ms. Hunter had the students read the article “The Benefits of Volunteerism, if the Service is Real” by Alina Tugend. The purpose of the article was so the students will understand that servicing others should be something that the students enjoy.
The students spent six weeks planning for the event during and after school. They set up different communities in order to ensure the event’s success. Ms. Hunter expressed, “Life changing, motivational, appreciation, and patriotism are some of the words used by scholars and veterans to describe their experience in planning and participating in iASPIRE’s Celebration of Veterans Ugly Christmas Sweater Community Service Event.”
During the event, students were able to speak with the veterans about their stories and life experiences. They listened to music, danced and even played card games. Ernesto Trejo, a student who is part of the program serenaded the veterans with his trumpet and performed The National Anthem and Silent Night.
The sweaters were donated by the teachers and students decorated them. It was important for the students to not only give back to their community, but to also earn community service hours for college. The eight women that the party was for were women who served their country and who had felt as if no one has cared about them. The students were very elated to bring joy into these women’s lives. Coach Hunter further expressed, “participating in community service projects will increase one’s chances of earning college scholarship monies and college admissions. However, volunteering can be mundane if it’s only performed for that purpose. My hope is that my students remember the smiles, laughter, hugs, appreciation and heart-felt words of the veterans each time they are faced with an opportunity to impact someone else’s life!”
Ernesto Trejo stated, “My experience while participating in ‘iASPIRE Celebration of Veterans’ was an amazing feeling. It was a process to create and plan such an important event for the veterans. But, when it all ended it felt like an accomplishment and I actually didn’t want it to end. I was just glad to be part of something they will be sure to remember.”
He further expressed, “The best memories I can take away from this party was the prayers and how appreciative the veterans were.
Also one of the best memories was when the veterans shared their stories which was a touching moment for me. It made me have respect for all they have done for this country.
Aquilla Aubrey, Administrator for College Initiatives at Eisenhower, made note that the program welcomes any student interested in learning more about college and would like to grow academically and socially. She also expressed that Eisenhower HS is a great place to be because, they are the only school who offers the program in the district. More importantly, they require not only the students to commit, but parents as well, as they encourage a lot of parental support. Parental involvement is important so that parents are knowledgeable about what their kids need and what is going on with them all four years of their high school academic journey.
The students worked very hard and the event was a success. The students learned a lot from their experience and are looking forward to more opportunities to serve their community. Ms. Hunter made it known that the St. Maria Women’s Hostile is always in need of support and welcomes those that would like to volunteer.