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NHS Junior/Senior Project Student Creating A Room For New Haven Students



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When Newtown High School senior Sydney Allen began reaching out to businesses on October 7 for help supporting her Junior/Senior Project, she did not know what the response would be.

“I am reaching out to local businesses and asking for your consideration to partner with me in my Senior Project,” Sydney wrote. “I have committed to remodeling a room for children at Life Haven, a women and children’s shelter located in New Haven. The Children’s Center, known as SEARCH [Services, Education And Activities, Reaching Children who are Homeless] is a program that provides kids an opportunity to engage in activities such as arts and crafts or afternoon homework club, while their moms are participating in counseling and training to equip them with the tools necessary to be independent again.”

The Junior/Senior Project Program at NHS is designed to enable students to build on existing strengths and to provide an opportunity for further study not available in the traditional classroom. The program provides motivated and responsible high school juniors and seniors the opportunity to explore a subject/career that they are passionate about and develop a career-oriented relationship with a community professional as a mentor in the student’s area of chosen interest.

Before this school year started, Sydney said she knew she wanted her project to focus on Life Haven, which she began volunteering at this summer through her church, Vertical Church in West Haven.

Sydney also said she wants to be a missionary, and has completed missionary trips through her church.

“We’ve done a lot for Life Haven,” Sydney said, of her church’s community. Adding later, “I wanted to base my project off of something that had to do with that.”

In August, when Sydney began volunteering at Life Haven, she said she sat in meetings and got to know staff members. The Children’s Center, she said, is housed in an old nun’s convent. The Children’s Center is in a large room that is split for the younger children and the older children. Sydney is focusing her efforts on the side of the room for the older kids, aged roughly between 12 to 16 years of age.

The space is used for a homework club that meets after school, but Sydney said there really was no space for the students to work on their homework or projects.

“The center right now is really run down and over cluttered,” said Sydney. “So that’s what I’m going to be doing: I’m remodeling the whole room.”

One wall, Sydney plans, will hold a large book shelf, which Scholastic is donating new books for all the kids to use.

Other businesses have also offered assistance for Sydney’s project. Lowe’s, she said, is going to supply paint, new flooring, and wood. For a craft table, Michael’s has offered to donate art supplies. Ashley Furniture, she said, will also donate couches for the space.

The project will be done by December and Sydney plans to have a ribbon cutting ceremony on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, when Life Haven staff and community members will be there for a Thanksgiving meal.

“It will be a good time, because all the kids and everyone will be there,” Sydney said.

Representatives from the donors are also invited to the ribbon cutting ceremony.

To further fund her project, Sydney said she sent items to Plato’s Closet, in Danbury, which buys gently used clothes. She also held a tag sale, which raised about $500.

The estimated cost of her project was $1,500, but Sydney said all of the donations will cover most of the cost. The money she raised will most likely be used to help furnish the room, “to make it more cozy and comfortable for the kids,” or whatever money is not used will be donated to the shelter.

“It’s really just meant as a space for the kids to go, because they are moving around so much that they never really had a place to call their own,” Sydney said. “So when they come here, I want it to be a place where they can be safe and comfortable and can do their work. Where they can be inspired to relax and do crafts.”

Reed Intermediate School fifth grade teacher Karen King and Vertical Church’s Youth Pastor Randal Alquist are both acting as Sydney’s mentors for her project, according to Sydney.

Further efforts on the project include a team of electricians and plumbers that have committed to coming to complete the electrical work and plumbing in the space for free. A group of her friends from school and friends from her church’s youth group have also said they would help.

“We are putting new laminate floors down, we’re repainting it, and I think the bookshelf will probably be made by hand,” said Sydney.

She plans on crafting a flower or star-shaped bookshelf, to help make the space unique and inspirational for the students.

Sydney said the room would be torn down by the volunteers by the end of October, and throughout November the space would be rebuilt.

“I am so impressed with her commitment to making a difference in the world,” said NHS Junior/Senior Project course instructor Peg Regaini, who runs the course with Ellie Hanna and Sue McConnell.

Other students in the Junior/Senior Project course are also working toward the end of the goal of presenting their completed projects near the start of January.

Student Reed Bryant is working on a Sandy Hook memorial design under the mentorship of Phil Clark of Claris Construction; Rachel Crosby is working on designing a CrossFit beginners course under the mentorship of Kurt Kling at CrossFit RedZone; Cassie Erikson is writing and editing poetry under the mentorship of Sayward Parsons from NHS; Dori Farley is creating curriculum for a physical education class under the mentorship of NHS’s Cheryl Lombardo; and Trevor Gaines is composing an orchestral piece under the mentorship of Michael J. Gilbertson.

Also, Chris Lafky is designing and building tesla coils under the mentorship of Stuart Popovize of Advanced Fusion; Sean MacMullan is creating a fully textured model of a creature for a short animated film under the mentorship of the University of Connecticut’s Matthew Worwood; Catherine McHugh is writing, filming, and editing a short video about the high school under the mentorship of NHS’s Kristin Violette; Brendan Qiao is learning blender techniques and animating a character in a short film under the mentorship of NHS’s Erik Holst-Grubbe; and Joey Whelan is composing a short piece for a jazz band under the mentorship of NHS’s Chris Lee.

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