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March 8, 2019

By Kevin Ko-wen Chen, Communications Manager

On March 5, 2019, ECFS received the Estée Lauder Companies Distinguished Volunteer Award at the New York Common Pantry (NYCP)’s annual Fill the Bag Benefit. In November 2018, students in Community Service Advisory Board in Training (CSAB-IT), an Upper School ethics course, contributed over 500 food donations and $5,000 to NYCP’s Thanksgiving drive.

Shelley Topping-Omodunbi, Fieldston Upper Ethics Teacher and Director of Public Partnership, and Vivian Matz, Fieldston Upper Ethics Teacher and Community Service Advisor, accepted the award on behalf of the school. In her remarks, Topping-Omodunbi said, “Our partnership with New York Common Pantry is a clear and direct expression of our school’s mission. We work to make social justice and civic engagement the core of our students’ understanding of the world and their capacity to be change agents.”

The first in a three-year sequence that pairs ECFS students with non-profit organizations in New York, CSAB-IT teaches leadership, communication, and project management skills to sophomores to prepare them for community-based work. As 11th and 12th Graders, the students then participate in the fieldwork component of CSAB, visiting a chosen partner organization each week to address a social justice issue.

Three students in the CSAB program made statements at the Benefit. Larry H. ’20 recalled first becoming interested in the community service track at ECFS after touring the school as an eighth grader. In a class taught by Topping-Omodunbi, students role-played administrators at two schools, each tasked with allocating a budget. Though Larry’s group had ample funds to create a rewarding educational experience, the other group, faced with limited resources, struggled. The lesson “helped to open my eyes to disparity in wealth throughout New York and my responsibility to help serve my community,” he said.

Denika K. ’21 credited the CSAB program with re-centering social justice learning outside the classroom. “A lot of ethics classes that you take starting in elementary school help prepare you in terms of learning about it in a more sheltered lens,” she said, but the hands-on experience provided a more immersive experience. While preparing and distributing food at the pantry initially seemed straightforward, Denika and her classmates soon realized the immensity of the task. “The thought that those who worked at NYCP did this on a daily basis on an even larger scale amazed us.”

As a 9th Grader, Zara W. ’19 first volunteered with the NYCP by handing out food to members of the community. Now a senior, she looks back at the start of her experience fondly. “Each face, each smile, each hug, and each thank you I received only furthered my love for this organization.”

Like many of her classmates, Zara hopes to keep the memories and lessons from her time at NYCP close, even as she looks to graduation. As she explained, “Being kind and doing good work for others not only supports the people you are working for, but it uplifts the entire community around you — including yourself.”