On Tuesday, December 17, the freshman and sophomore community service classes at ECFS came together for the Kingsbridge Heights Community Center Winter Solstice Festival. The community center, commonly referred to as KHCC, partners with ECFS every year to deliver an incredible event. Built in 1974 by a group of community organizers, KHCC provides various services to a wide range of residents living in the Bronx. The main purpose of the Winter Solstice Festival is to make the holidays more enjoyable by giving families a night of festive fun and entertainment.
The festival required months of preparation from both the Intro to Community Service (ICS) and the Community Service Advisory Board In Training (CSAB-IT) classes. Starting in November, CSAB-IT planned and organized various activities to raise money for the cause. Following many discussions, the class decided to host a bake sale and also do something more interactive with the wider ECFS community: send out candygrams.
Since we were raising money so close to the holiday season, we decided to sell candygrams featuring candy canes and assorted candy bags. Students bought the candygrams for their friends, teachers, and classmates, and then students from CSAB-IT delivered them in silly hats to make the delivery more festive. In addition to raising money for the event, CSAB-IT came up with a list of engaging activities to feature during the festival, including a magic show.
Prior to the festival, students from ICS spent time researching poverty, the distribution of wealth, and other relevant topics. It is crucial for students to understand the background and the history of the topics we’re fighting. We read many articles related to these issues and also completed an in-depth analysis of the things we read. In addition to doing research, ICS also received training from CSAB-IT about respectful community norms and what to expect from the festival.
At the festival, dinner was served to everyone in the main hall. Last year, ECFS students served the food to the festival guests. However, this prevented the students from being able to interact with the people coming to the event, which was a major drawback. Therefore, this year, students had dinner alongside the guests, and we all enjoyed some interesting and thought-provoking conversations.
Down in the gym, there was a plethora of activities: face-painting, cookie-decorating, balloon animals, snowman-making, a video game station, a snack station, and even a popcorn station! Upstairs, children enjoyed arts and crafts, a puppet show, and a performance by a magician. The ICS and CSAB-IT students managed the stations in shifts so that we were all able to try different things.
There are many things one can learn from researching a topic or being taught something in class, but it never really measures up to an experience where you can put that knowledge to use. This service project was that experience for me and for a lot of my fellow ECFS students. Simply doing service work can make someone feel really good. For instance, while I was working at the balloon station, I interacted with numerous kids and parents. There was one girl, about five or six years old, who had pigtails on the top of her head. She decided to go under our table, where a lot of balloons had fallen. I went under with her to help her get up and protect her from hitting the top of her head against the table. Afterward, I held her hand and escorted her back to her mom, who was standing on the side looking for her. When the mom saw her daughter with me, she gave me a big, bright smile and thanked me many times. This small moment — bringing smiles to the faces of the mother and the little girl — made me happy. That moment made me want to do more volunteer work involving children.
I heard similar stories from other students about their experiences at the festival. My friend Tess M. ’23 enjoyed being able to teach a little boy how to make a balloon sword. My friend Amber B. ’22 told me that she got a chance to talk to two little kids and their parents at dinner, and they shared stories about being black in New York. All in all, the Winter Solstice Festival had an amazing turnout, and the ECFS students went home proud to have put on such a wonderful event that brought together two communities with widely different resources — a happy winter celebration for all.