Giving back and paying it forward. That is what Comsewogue High School teacher Andrew Harris wants his students to get out of the second annual Joe’s Day of Service. Students and staff participated in this year’s event on May 29 and throughout the day engaged in acts of kindness throughout the community.
Harris said the idea of a full day of community service projects came about last year, when students in his classes made pitches on how the student body could spend the day.
Two students, Julia Ratkiewicz and Rachel Plunkett, proposed the idea of visiting Calverton National Cemetery, where members of the United States armed forces are laid to rest, to spend the day cleaning gravestones and straightening flags.
Harris immediately took to the idea, and for the second straight year nearly 200 Comsewogue High School students journeyed to Calverton cemetery.
Joe’s Day of Service was named after Superintendent Joe Rella, who Harris said showcased a belief that students and community members can improve their lives and the lives of others by working together.
“I wanted the students to know that what they do can impact and benefit so many people,” he said. “Also, I think it’s important to get involved and step up to the plate.”
While the high school students were at Calverton, other Comsewogue kids throughout the district were doing their part. Middle schoolers participated in a beach clean-up at Cedar Beach, elementary school kids at Norwood Elementary School sang songs to senior citizens and others painted rocks as part of the Kindness Rocks Project, an initiative which calls on people to paint inspiring messages on rocks and leave them in places where they will be found by someone in need of an emotional boost.
Students and staff honored Dashan Briggs, a member of the National Air Guard 106th from Port Jefferson Station, who died last year in a helicopter crash in Iraq, along with several members of his unit. The high school chorus serenaded Briggs’ wife Rebecca Briggs and his children, Ava and Jayden, who will be attending district schools next year. Comsewogue student Ava Pearl presented the family with a portrait she painted of the late Briggs, which will be placed in the district schools.
“We wanted them to feel part of our family,” Harris said.
The students joined the Briggs family and others at the Calverton National Cemetery to visit Dashan’s gravesite. Once there, they gave the family flowers and painted socks with encouraging messages. Also, this year, students straightened and put flags on gravesites throughout the cemetery. Students took the time to escort family members of veterans as well, who were coming from around the New York metro area, to visit the graves of their fallen family member.
“It is so nice to see how many kids were able to come out and help,” John Quartararo, a senior at Comsewogue High School, said. “For them to give up a day of school to come out and do this just shows how much a community that Comsewogue really is.”
For the high schooler, to be able to honor Dashan Briggs’ memory in front of his wife and children meant a lot to him personally.
“I lost my father when I was younger, and just knowing that we are making an impact and showing that we are always there for them means a lot,” he said. “The motto for us has always been to help someone out — ‘once a warrior, always a warrior’ and I feel like that resonated on this whole day.”
Along with the cemetery visit, teachers and students participated in a track walk to fundraise for a fellow student battling leukemia and whose family is having financial distress due to the treatment costs.
Harris praised the students for what they did on this day.
“I just want you guys to know that you have made a huge impact to the community and the Briggs family. You should be proud of yourselves,” he said.