By Nika Madyoon
Members of this year’s Community Council have made it their mission to unify the student body. However, they do not seek to obliterate the variety of interests that characterizes the school community. Rather, the 20 student members will use these specific interests to bring the community together, taking Peer Support enthusiasts and baseball players alike and turning them all into active philanthropists.
This year’s members have adopted a methodology focused on targeting specific groups on campus. They hope to encourage a unique intra-activity bonding experience while making positive changes to the greater community, said Matthew Wolfen ’12, one of the three heads of Community Council. Richard Polo ’12 is the head responsible for coordinating these “group” events.
“We’re trying to help people see how interested they can become in community service,” said Ryan Lash ’12, another leader and the council’s Public Relations officer.
Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts created Community Council three years ago after the former Director of Community Service, Jan Stewart, left the school.
Community Council members have always been divided into smaller subsets. Lash said this pairing up of juniors and seniors is intended to acclimate new students and guide them through the stages of conceptualizing, planning and successfully completing an event. Some changes have been made over the years. At first, members were assigned specific causes. As it currently stands, they are free to plan events as they please, whether they are open to campus-wide participation or for a specific group. In its first year, the council was run exclusively by Chaplain J. Young and Director of Student Affairs Jordan Church, the current faculty advisers. Now, the designated student leaders have positions of reasonable authority, and this year the council functions in a “classroom-style” fashion, with the heads present to handle the concerns of other members, Lash said.
The majority of students fulfill their service requirement, half a day of hands-on service with a minimum of three other members of the school community, by participating in Community Council events. Wolfen, who oversees day-to-day pursuits and the members’ progress, said about 25 percent of students meet the requirement through outside organizations.
Head Prefect Rishi Bagrodia ’12, who is organizing an event with the council that will involve the Chess Club teaching children in downtown to play chess, appreciates the council’s role in the school community.
“It gets us involved in the things we’re most passionate about,” he said.
Not all students fulfill the requirement through Community Council events.
“There are other causes that I want to dedicate my time to that are not offered here,” Gabi Kuhn ’12 said.
Participation with some organizations has been regular due to the popularity of past events. Kids Enjoy Exercise Now events, for example, have become common.
Other events have drawn large numbers simply because people choose to leave the requirement for the last minute. An Operation Gratitude event at the end of last year was the largest in Community Council history, with a total of 96 students participating.
“My personal goal is to some day make community service so meaningful at Harvard-Westlake that there is no need for a requirement,” Young said.
Regardless of the particular causes that members of Community Council dedicate time to, all share a sincere devotion to positively impacting the community.
“It’s an important part of growing up and learning to appreciate what you have,” Community Council member Jessica Barzilay ’12 said.
“My parents really emphasized that we could give back,” Wolfen said. “I think it would be great if every student on campus could experience that.”