ELIZABETH—Three Benedictine Academy students have been honored for their acts of kindness, recognized recently as winners of an Essay Contest, sponsored by the “Kindness Campaign of Northern New Jersey.”
Elizabeth Mayor J. Christian Bollwage presented awards to the students at an assembly held at the all-female Catholic college prep high school in Elizabeth earlier this month. He was joined by Dr. Barbara Velazquez, Director of the “Kindness Committee of Northern New Jersey,” and, Naresh Jain, President of Educare Foundation, Inc., which partnered with the “Kindness Committee” on the essay contest. The students received awards in the form of certificates and checks, plus accolades from fellow students, school administration, and faculty for their winning essays on “kindness.”
Junior Vanessa Fragiacomo, and freshmen Ranisha Frejuste and Tara Lenahan, each earned first, second and third place, respectively, in the contest. The young women were among others in their school who submitted essays about their personal experiences of “going out of their comfort zone” to extend a kindness to a fellow human being. The essay contest was conducted this year solely at Benedictine Academy by the “Kindness Committee of Northern New Jersey” along with Educare Foundation. Previously, the contest took place in Columbia H.S. in Maplewood and at Seton Hall Preparatory School in West Orange.
“We are trying to create a humanitarian consciousness in the world,” Velazquez commented during the award ceremony. Her organization believes that, “our future begins with children. If we want to see a better future, then it is crucial to instill in children and teens the importance of kindness, kind acts and contributing to a better, more humanitarian world.” Jain added, in remarks made during the awards ceremony, that “peace, unrest and injustice in any part of the world affects us all.”
Fragiacomo’s essay reflected her own difficulty several years ago in transitioning from her native Italy to the U.S., and trying to make new friends at the start of the school year. At lunch one day, she noticed another student who, not unlike herself, was new and in need of a friend. Fragiacomo decided to help her out “right away. At first, a feeling of generosity filled my heart,” she wrote.
“I was going to use my lunch money to buy her food and a drink. But then, as I was about to proceed with my plan, I remembered that I knew not a word of English. I started to panic, but the feeling of wanting to help became stronger than my fear. I got up, bought a nice lunch and a cold drink, and brought it back to my new friend. Yes, that’s right, that day I had made a new friend,” the Kearney resident related.
“What could possibly be more satisfying than helping someone in need?” Fragiacomo wrote in her winning essay. “I know for sure that it is something that leaves your heart full of joy and gratefulness, which is the best reward I could ever gain. I have had many experiences when I got the privilege of helping others, but this is one event in particular that I will never forget. It was one of the only times I felt like I was truly helping, because what I did came spontaneously from my heart, and it left me joyful.”
She continued, “I know that what I did for this girl might seem small, but it was my best. I had stepped out of my little comfort zone, ignored the fear that made my heart pound fast, and helped out a girl that was full of fear. That day, I went home with a smile, because despite all the difficulties I had faced, I was still able to help someone, who became my first friend (in the U.S.), and I learned an important life lesson: nothing feels better than helping whoever is in need.”
Frejuste, an Irvington resident, wrote about helping a friend in her neighborhood school when she was younger who was being bullied, recalling how she stepped out of her comfort zone “one time to help another person, and that one time changed my life.” Frejuste, who stated that she, herself had been the victim of bullying, related in her essay how she felt compelled to help her classmate.
“Every time I saw her, I felt her pain,” wrote Frejuste. “I first talked to her about how she felt, then sought out help. I went to an adult for assistance. While I tried to help this girl, I was being taunted for helping her. I held her hand through all that she had to go through during her journey. After I helped her get through her pain, I realized that I don’t have to be quiet about what happened to me. I believe that those horrible things happened to me for a reason. They happened to me so that I could speak out in the effort to stop bullying and to help the victims of bullying,” Frejuste stated.
Lenahan, of South Amboy, remembered in her essay how, on a cold, snowy January day off from school when she was just eleven years old, she was “touched by a lingering thought which kept gnawing at me. I shuddered at the vision of the homeless in the cold, so much that my heart ached”. This compassion on Lenahan’s part led to the start-up of a charity to help the homeless. She decided that a scarf which she was knitting at the time would be donated to a homeless shelter.
“This single scarf was the spark of the beginning of ‘Fuzzies for the Homeless’”, stated Lenahan. “I made the decision to collect hand-knit scarves and donate them to the Pierre Toussaint Pantry and St. Benedict’s and Covenant House in Newark. Soon my friends’ mothers, my mother’s friends, and other girls who I knew began to knit multiple scarves for my charity, and have not stopped since. I have even brought a little taste of ‘Fuzzies’ to Benedictine Academy. A few of the girls in the freshmen class have helped me bag the scarves which have been donated to the Elizabeth Homeless Shelter, plus more. As of today, we have collected 904 hand-knit scarves, plus other items for the homeless,” wrote Lenahan.
The “Kindness Committee of Northern New Jersey” believes there is a certain “Karma” to acts of good will because “not only does being kind help make the world a better place, it also offers significant health benefits, both physically and mentally.” The Committee cites a study by Oregon State University in which researchers found that when positive actions are taught to elementary school children, it can help improve academic test scores as much as 10% on national standardized math and reading tests. It also resulted in better performance on state reading and math tests, and markedly fewer school suspensions and absenteeism.
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