Stemming from a culture of community service, Lake Highland Preparatory School’s parent association organized a school-wide day of service on Sept. 21. The inaugural Heart of a Highlander event saw more than 700 students donating over 2,100 hours to 40 local nonprofit organizations across Central Florida.
“It was so great to see how an entire school community can give to the Greater Orlando community,” senior Alex Caron says.
It was Caron and his friend Andrew Sowinski that inspired the idea behind the day of service. Andrew’s mom Patty, who is president of the parent association, saw the pair spend a whole afternoon playing video games during a school holiday and thought they were wasting the day away with their chosen activity.
Inspired by their success in school, Patty knew they could do better. She came up with the idea of giving LPHS students a choice: spend a day off from school lounging at home or spend it volunteering at a nonprofit that means something to them.
The idea gained traction after school started this August. Many parents and students were eager to help, but the overall participation and impact stunned even the event organizers.
“We’ll do six [charities] and we’ll fill, maybe ambitiously, 200 [volunteer] slots,” Patty remembers about managing the event. “Within 48 hours those slots were filled.”
Since an organization can only accommodate a certain number of volunteers, event organizers gave students the opportunity to put together a team to volunteer at a nonprofit of their choice. Since the response was immediate and significant, the number of charities increased to include 40 organizations across Orange, Seminole, and Osceola counties – the majority of which were selected by LHPS students.
“Even at the youngest of levels, if a student wants to organize, we just rally behind that cause and so many of the best opportunities have been student-led,” Sowinski says. “This was not required by teachers for extra credit opportunities.”
Caron spent his day with the Joe R. Lee Boys and Girls Club of Central Florida, noting that this organization has been near and dear to his family since they moved to Florida when he was just 4 years old. He was determined to get his entire football team involved.
“Its always fun to share the volunteer experience with my teammates,” Caron says. “I see them all every day – at practice, for hours in the weight room. To see them giving back to the community, it shows me another side of them.”
That day, the football team ran a camp for the children. A big part of their message was the importance of academics over sports.
“It’s about being a student athlete, not just an athlete,” Caron says.
This is just one of many stories from the day. Other teams worked with charities dealing with autism or cancer because those were issues that affected their lives. Most importantly, the first Heart of Highlander day of service was the start of a new school tradition.
“I don’t think we have any choice in the matter,” Sowinski says. “The first part [of the students’] sentence is ‘Next year…’ It immediately became what are we going to do next year.”