Sharon Elementary School hosted 114 students, seven local organizations, and over 30 parent-volunteers at the school’s first-ever Sharon Shines community service event.
Sharon Shines is an after-school program that encourages Sharon Elementary School students, from Kindergarten to 4th grade, to participate in hands-on community service and to learn about organizations that are located right in their backyard.
“The purpose is to shine light on how you can make your community a better place,” said Celeste Albert, coordinator of Sharon Shines and member of the Sharon Elementary School Parent Teach Association Outreach Team.
This year, the participating students had a chance to work with Project Linus of Mercer County, Project Freedom, Robbinsville Rocks, Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, Rose Hill Assisted Living, Robbinsville Township Senior Center, and Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Greater Mercer County.
“I just wanted the children to learn about ways they can make a difference in their community and to learn about these different agencies,” Albert said.
In just one hour, Sharon Shine participants made 60 breakfast bags for the Robbinsville Township Senior Center, decorated over 60 placemats for Rose Hill Assisted Living, created 60 coloring bags and bookmarks for Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County, created 50 rocks for Robbinsville Rocks, wrapped over 400 utensils in napkins for the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, decorated 40 placemats for Project Freedom and made four fleece blankets for Project Linus.
Sharon Shines is unlike any other community service program that Sharon Elementary School has arranged in the past. Before Sharon Shines, the school mainly focused on donation-based programs such as their Thanksgiving Day Drive.
“When they drop off a can, there’s no real connection,” said Chrissy Turner, a parent volunteer.
The program guides participating students through a rotation of three of the seven stations. The stations that student-participants will visit are dependent on their age. Each station consists of a 5-minute presentation followed by a 10-minute activity that is lead by a representative from one of the local organizations. After the event, each student even receives a certificate of participation.
“It’s awesome. You don’t get this anywhere,” said Seshadri Vijayaraghavan, founder of the school’s PTA Outreach Team.
Students learn about the organization’s missions and how their participation in Sharon Shines will directly make a difference.
“I think the event is awesome,” parent volunteer Alison Morgan said. “When we do fundraising, it’s not hands-on. This kind of program helps bring awareness and kids realize there are people who aren’t as fortunate.”
At Project Linus’ station, students helped make blankets that would go directly to children in need in the Mercer County area.
“Working on Project Linus is awesome because they can help their peers,” said Cynthia Rosen, the Mercer County Chapter Coordinator for Project Linus.
Some children even expressed interest in going home and making more blankets, Rosen said.
Lesley Pomeranz, another parent volunteer, watched as her daughter, a Kindergartener at the school, excitedly joined in on stuffing bags with breakfast items and making cards for the Robbinsville Township Senior Center.
“I’m hoping [the students] enjoy volunteering and continue to want to do it,” Pomeranz said.
Pomeranz’s daughter has been to the senior center before and was delighted that she was going to be volunteering with them through Sharon Shines, Pomeranz said.
The purpose of Sharon Shines is to expose students at a young age to volunteering-based opportunities so that they will continue to give back to their communities.
Albert announced that she would send out an email to every participating student’s parent that provided the links to each organization’s website so that the students could continue volunteering outside of Sharon Shines.
“I would say at no matter what age, you have the ability to make your community a better place,” Albert said.
Albert has experience in coordinating community service events specifically for teenagers. However, her inspiration for Sharon Shines was her 7-year old daughter, a student at the school.
“I wanted to do this one thing for my daughter,” Albert said.
Amidst the fun, township councilman Dan Schuberth made a special appearance. He excitedly joined in on painting rocks for Robbinsville Rocks, an initiative that paints inspirational messages on colorful rocks and plants them all around Robbinsville for residents to find.
Albert hopes that this year’s program will create enough buzz for more luminaries make an appearance next year.
“It could easily be a huge event,” Albert said.
Sharon School principal Janet Lawlor Sinkewicz has similar goals. With a little over 10 percent of the student body participating in this year’s event, she wants to see that percentage continue to grow.
“We’ve always been a community that gives and we’re always looking for a way to get kids involved and to have their expertise at it,” she said. “For the future, I want more students to get involved and for us to be able to hold this event more times during the year.”