LINDEN – In 1991, United Way of Greater Union County formed a partnership with Linden High School to form Youth for United Way, whose mission, through service-learning, offered students a unique opportunity to involve themselves with community service projects. Twenty years later, the students, freshmen through senior grade level, have actively kept the mission of the program strong.
The participants of Youth for United Way have successfully run a number of different food, clothing and toy drives for homeless shelters throughout Union County. They have also hosted United Way Day of Caring projects where they prepared dinners for residents of domestic violence shelters, completed beautification projects at various agencies and read to children at a local day care centers. The students have hosted yearly Sensitivity Training Workshops with teenagers from the Katzenback School for the Deaf and have supported The March of Dimes through walking for the cause and raising over $18,000.
The dedication and consistency of the volunteer efforts from the Linden Youth for United Way students set the foundation for the beginning of their nationally recognized Learn and Serve America program that acknowledged them as a New Jersey Service Learning Leader School and national recognition by the White House and Congress in 2000.
Jennifer Kunsman-Romanoff, a Linden High School alumnus and first president of Linden Youth for United Way, attended the commemoration and spoke about how much of a positive impact her involvement as a youth made on her adult life. She thanked Esther Paden, Linden teacher and Program Coordinator of Linden Youth for United Way, for seeing the leadership potential in her to be the first president and encouraged the students to continue their efforts and share with the classmates the importance of giving back to their community.
Students who have participated in Youth for United Way and the Learn and Serve Program are now scattered across the country and are working as medical doctors, pharmacists, teachers and countless other professions. Participants of the programs have made a positive impact on their fellow students and help to enhance their civic attitudes and involvement in volunteer service.
The commemoration event also incorporated a leadership and mentoring presentation based on “The Validating Mentor” and “The Validating Mentor Workbook” by Westfield resident Gail Cassidy.
“We were thrilled to have the mentoring program hosted at the high school”, said Esther Paden. “Those that completed the program said that it was a rewarding experience that allowed them an opportunity to build on their leadership skills, share experiences, create memories and develop friendships. We look forward to doing this again next year.”
Gail Cassidy, the program’s author, explained “This mentoring program assists young people in their search for a direction in life. They need some help to discover their personal gifts and talents, as well as learn how to use them. This program is a wonderful example of empowering youth to support their peers. We salute the collaborative work of United Way and Linden High School.”
The program was funded, through United Way of Greater Union County, by a grant from the Thomas Glasser Foundation of Westfield, a non-profit organization established in memory of a 9/11 victim.
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