Middle School Students Walk for Service and StewardshipWritten by Andres Lopez & Andrea Miller
Drenched in sweat, seventh graders Aidan Lee and Roland Knight completed ten laps each around our 1-mile Middle School walk-a-thon course on Friday, May 20. Both Roland and Aidan secured pledges to benefit the John Theissen Children’s Foundation. Aidan was inspired to sponsor himself. “I just wanted to donate to charity as much as I can,” he said.
An annual tradition, our Middle School walk-a-thon provides our students an opportunity to live true to our Quaker values of stewardship and service. This year, students walked to support the John Theissen Children’s Foundation, a Long Island nonprofit that has provided support to families in local hospitals since 1992.
Before sending students on their way this morning, Selina Collier, our eighth-grade science teacher, asked them to remember that the intention behind the event is for them to practice being of service to others.
In less than a week, our eighth graders will be asked to help run activities for competitors and their families at the Nassau County Games for the Physically Challenged, so the walk-a-thon served as a nice precursor, Mrs. Collier said.
“We’re raising money for a great organization, the John Theissen Children’s Foundation, but we’re also practicing our skills for another event at the same time,” she said.
Since 1992, the John Theissen Children’s Foundation has donated more than one million gifts to local families through its holiday toy drive. It also runs a family fun center for children undergoing long term medical treatments and helps families defray the costs of transportation to and from medical treatments through its “Smiles and Miles” program.
In preparation for the walk-a-thon, founder John Theissen visited the Middle School during their Meeting for Worship to share what inspired him to start his organization 30 years ago. “When I was 17 years old, I developed a brain tumor and in 1988, I checked into Schneider’s Children’s Hospital for a 10-hour brain surgery,” Mr. Theissen said. “My first day, my parents and I are talking to my doctors and in walks this little 7-year-old girl in her pajamas, named Tasha, who said, ‘Hi! Welcome to Med 4!’ What I found out was that Tasha was the mayor of the ward and knew everyone’s name.”
In and out of the hospital for weeks at a time as she battled cancer, John would discover that Tasha would never have any visitors. Despite that, she would ask constantly after John’s health and when her family was unable to attend a holiday party, John’s mother offered to take her. “I was too sick to go, but Tasha went, and ended up giving me her gift – a beautiful white teddy bear. She gave up her gift to give it to me.”
Seeing how many families were suffering financially because of their children’s medical issues, John started his first toy drive in 1992. “Over the years, I’ve never let anything stop me – I was so driven by Tasha’s gift,” John said. “When I got out of the hospital, I wanted to help children just like Tasha.” The John Theissen Children’s Foundation has financed family vacations, delivered hundreds of thousands of backpacks, sent laptops to hospitals so in-patient children can Skype with their friends, and more. “What makes me different is that I’ve lived this experience,” and for these children, “I’ve never wanted there to be any limits.”
Our Middle School walk-a-thon has a history of more than two decades, as well. We want students to feel empowered to make a difference, Mrs. Collier said. “Even if it’s a very small difference. It’s a difference. And that’s what’s most important.”
Four 7th graders literally took the challenge to make a difference home, and inspired by how they could make a change, put together a one-day homemade lemonade stand in their neighborhood. Emily Mazur, Cecilia and Christina Yin, and Skylar Greenspan raised almost $83 dollars, which they donated to the John Theissen Children’s Foundation.
To help manage activity stations throughout the 1-mile walk-a-thon course, Mrs. Collier engaged graduating seniors currently working on independent service projects. Kiki Rosen reflected on the annual event as she helped manage a soccer station.
“I looked forward to this every single year of Middle School,” Kiki said. “It kind of ignites your sense of leadership.”
Marco Minuto also helped out at the walk-a-thon. “It’s a great thing that our school does, getting Middle School students involved in a cause,” he said. “They should never stop doing this. I think it’s something that people will always remember.”