Brenden Keller knew he was venturing into enemy territory. But it didn’t bother the Quakertown Community High School senior one bit.
“Oh yeah,” he said with a smile. “But that’s OK. It’s for a good cause.”
Keller joined about a dozen fellow Quakertown Community High School students at Pennridge FISH Monday morning as part of the district’s second Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. That he was helping members of a community that has had a bitter athletic rivalry with Quakertown for generations was of no consequence.
“I’m happy to help,” said Keller as he took a break from cleaning at the Perkasie food pantry. “There people are in need. If I can help out, why not?”
That was exactly the message Keller and about 250 other Quakertown students and staff heard from Dr. Vierdre Jackson during a keynote address in the high school cafeteria before heading out to various community service projects in Bucks County and the Lehigh Valley. Jackson, an award-winning author, educator, and entrepreneur urged the audience to look past their differences to see each other as individuals during her passionate presentation.
“As you go out into the community, look for opportunities to close the gap between you and someone else,” she said. “I ask you, ‘what is going to be your legacy?’ ”
In addition to Pennridge FISH, students had several community service options to choose from, including the Sixth Street Shelter in Allentown, Hope ReStored Thrift Store, Phoebe Richland Retirement Community, First Church of the Brethren, Trumbauersville Food Pantry, NOVA Thrift Shop and LifePath. Strayer Middle School students also hosted elementary school students with storytime, and others worked in the high school Cyber Commons on filling Easter eggs for Quakertown Borough and making Valentine’s Day cards for nursing home residents.
Quakertown Community High School ninth grader Samantha Profit, who worked at PennridgeFISH along with Keller, said she was excited by the opportunity to help. It was her first time participating in the Day of Service.
“It’s really cool to help the community and be of service,” she said.
Jackson said that when a school district allows young people like Keller and Profitt to take on leadership roles – as Quakertown has done with its MLK Day of Service activities the past two years -- students begin to think about who they can be impacting. Young people who are invested and empowered in the process have the power to influence, she said.
Jackson urged students not to be silent or apathetic if they see something wrong, and often spoke of King’s message and of the importance of being “authentic, empathetic spirits.” Quakertown students said they felt the impact of Jackson’s inspirational words.
“She was so inspiring. Everything she said related to my life,” said Angelina Becker. “I will take this with me when I step outside of school and it will stick with me.”
Riya Sembhi said she “loved” Jackson’s presentation. “She made me more aware of the different classes and social structure. This was enlightening.”
Pennridge FISH volunteer Barb Faust said the Quakertown students’ work was welcomed and appreciated.
“It’s very important,” she said. “We don’t always have the time. It’s not some kind of make-work project. It needs to be done.”
Quakertown Community High School teachers Bethany Fuller and Jen Stover, Peggy Smith of Trumbauersville Elementary School and Strayer Middle School Assistant Principal Kim Finnerty worked to develop the district’s second MLK Day event.
High school Assistant Principal Jennifer Carolla said she was proud of the planning done by teachers and the enthusiasm to serve shown by students. She also praised Jackson’s presentation. “It’s a humbling feeling to reach inside yourself and have self-reflection because that’s when true change occurs and you can make an impact on someone else’s life. That’s what this day is about. Let’s pay it forward.”