Like millions of others across the country, Aleyna Kilic, a seventh-grade student in Jersey City, NJ, watched the news about Hurricane Harvey in disbelief at the devastation the storm wrought.
Instead of thinking, “someone has to do something,” Kilic knew she had to get involved personally.
Unsure about the best course of action, she reached out to the counselor at her school, The Learning Community Charter School, Shanelle Muse. LCCS is a PK-8 school with 585 students who come from all over Jersey City, which has been named one of the most diverse cities in the nation.
Muse, who taught Kilic in the classroom previously, said that a previous community service project learning about and raising money for Southern Sudan might have “sparked her mind.”
“But we can’t take any credit for this initiative,” Muse said. “As a school, our mission touches upon delivering a curriculum based upon our students’ needs and interests, so seeing our curriculum at work and broadening our global connectedness is a beautiful thing.”
Muse sent Kilic to Jennifer Hughes, the school’s development director, who oversees all the school’s fundraising, and the two came up with a plan.
“We talked about how often it is more work for people to get donations of things after a disaster, and how cash can be better utilized,” said Hughes. They decided to find a particular elementary school in the Houston area to better connect students in Jersey City with children in need in Texas.
Hughes helped Kilic find information online about HISD area schools and contacted HISD Family And Community Empowerment (FACE ). After reviewing some of the impacted schools, Mitchell Elementary School – one of the schools that suffered extensive damage and relocation due to Hurricane Harvey – was the school to help.
“I wanted to get involved because I knew I couldn’t just sit back and not do anything,” Kilic said. “I had also done some of my own research and found out that many supplies end up sitting in warehouses and people weren’t really getting the supplies they needed, which had made me want to help even more.”
Kilic decided to hold a series of bake sales – one in New York City where her father has a grocery store, one outside the school, and one in a local park.
Kilic learned about state health regulations that prevented her from selling baked goods in the park (they gave out treats and accepted donations.) She rallied about a dozen other students as bakers, sellers, and organizers, utilizing spreadsheets and Google docs. She sent an email to Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, earning a donation from the politician and a personal note in his email “thanking you for all that you are doing.”
In the end, Kilic and her group raised $1,324.55.
“I learned that you really need to take charge and be a leader, but at the same time make sure to let everyone feel included,” said Kilic, who is also on the school’s track team, math club, student council, leads peer mediation, and tutors younger students. “I enjoyed it because it was definitely a new experience for me, and I had never done anything like this before.