Union County Launches Support 4 Soldiers with Local High Schoolers
Union County’s popular student engagement program, UC STEP, kicked off its first service-based initiative, Support 4 Soldiers, last week at the Westfield Armory on Rahway Avenue in Westfield.
“The board is so excited to see the dedication of our students to a project and a cause that not only binds them as a community, but also gives back to the heroes and she-roes who sacrifice themselves to protect our civil liberties,” said Freeholder Linda Carter.
The kick-off event not only provided the opportunity for the participating schools to collect campaign supplies and merchandise, but also the chance to interact with military personnel to learn how soldiers across the country benefit from care packages like those that the Support 4 Soldiers campaign will create. More than 20 schools across the county will be participating in the program by setting up collection boxes in the respective schools.
Lieutenant Colonel Bill Morris, executive officer and Brigade Full Time Officer in Charge, thanked the students at the kick-off, and commented on how efforts like S4S go far in boosting moral; reminding everyone that despite the uniform, soldiers are just regular people.
“When this uniform comes off they [soldiers] are regular members of the community just like you,” he said.
Support 4 Soldiers was the winning campaign from the first UC STEP Summit which was held on Dec. 13, 2013. Winning with more than 1,800 votes, the large-scale community service project features a partnership with the Board of Chosen Freeholders to collect items to be used in care packages for active military troops at home, and abroad. Also partnering in this endeavor is Bonds of Courage, a nonprofit organization supporting troops, veterans and their families to build morale, and to meet needs involving jobs, health, families, and finances.
The campaign also features a point-based competition for the most successful S4S campaign, in which the winning school will receive a $1,000 Start Now grant, provided by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
Union County Announces Winner of UC STEP Civic Engagement Challenge
The winner of the UC STEP Civic Engagement challenge was recently announced by Union County Freeholder Chairman Christopher Hudak at Union County’s 157th reorganization meeting. Group Lavender won the challenge with over 1800 votes from students, teachers, parents and community members with their “Support 4 Soldiers” campaign.
“Over 4600 votes came in county-wide for the various projects,” Hudak said, “The Freeholder Board is proud, not only that our local student came up with such thoughtful and inspiring ideas, but more that the members of our community came together to show them such great support.”
The headline event of Union County’s very first UC STEP program, the Civic Engagement Challenge brought students together to brainstorm and create a county-wide community service campaign which will be enacted through the Freeholder Board in connection with Union County students.
“Support 4 Soldiers” will include a coordinated drive to collect items to be used in care packages for active military troops. Collection sites will be located in local schools, movie theaters, and libraries.
UC STEP, promotes positive youth development through focusing on topics like leadership, personal growth, and more importantly, civic engagement.
This year’s event, hosted by Kean University, brought together 192 high school sophomores and juniors from 26 high schools across the County, and featured discussion sessions, including “You Be the Judge,” which focused on crafting an effective elevator speech, and “How to be an Effective Leader,” which focused on identifying the diversity, concerns, and values of individuals.
Union County Urges Students to STEP UP and STAND OUT at 1st Ever UC STEP Program
As Anna O’Brian stepped off of the bus onto the grounds of Kean University, the teenager was not too enthused with the prospect of spending her day there.
But after spending her day bonding and working together with students from the far reaches of Union County she raved about her enriching experience at the UC STEP Program.
“When I thought about the day I was missing at my school, I wasn’t really looking forward to it,” said the Westfield High School student. “But the activities have been amazing. I’ve done things I’ve never done before.”
Anna, along with 192 other Union County high school sophomores and juniors, was selected by her school to participate in UC STEP- a unique program promoting positive youth development through focusing on topics like leadership, personal growth, and more importantly, civic engagement.
“Civic engagement through service and community activities not only inspires youth to become active participants in society, it also fosters empathy and makes students more aware of the issues that plague their greater community,” said Freeholder Chairman Linda Carter.
“I can’t think of a better program to close out my Chairmanship. As an educator, this is something I’m extremely passionate about,” she said.
Hosted by Kean University, the half-day program featured discussion sessions, including “You Be the Judge,” which focused on crafting an effective elevator speech, and “How to be an Effective Leader,” which focused on identifying the diversity, concerns, and values of individuals.
The most popular session was “Civic Engagement,” which brought all of the UC STEP participants together to create, plan, and propose social action projects- the best of which would be chosen by popular vote and executed by Union County’s Board of Chosen Freeholders with the students.
As part of the competition, the students divided into 10 groups containing students from different schools. Using a set of facts about Union County, and minimal guidelines, each group was instructed to envision a project that would be realistic and replicable in other schools, recognizing the diversity of the County’s demographics.
The result was something amazing, according to Amy Wagner, Bureau Chief of Union County’s Bureau of Government Relations and Community Outreach, who served as planning team leader for the program.
“The students in each group, despite not knowing each other, really embraced the idea of the civic engagement project. It was wonderful to see them working collaboratively and talking about themes like giving, homelessness and mentorship,” Wagner said.
Benjamin Freedman, a student at the Academy for Information Technology talked about his group’s service project- Bringing Holiday Spirit to the Elderly
“The people that have given us hope, deserve some hope back,” he said.
After the presentation portion of the session, the students voted on their favorite projects. The top four projects were:
- 4 Seasons of Service: a project that involves different community service projects based on the seasons of the year.
- Bands for Benefit: a project that involves organizing a large scale concert whose proceeds would benefit Union County’s Homeless.
- Lending a Hand: which involves Union County high school students serving as tutors and mentors for children in county shelters.
- Support 4 Soldiers: a project that would support a coordinated drive to collect items to be used in care packages for active military troops.
The projects are now open to a larger, community-wide vote to determine the contender which will be announced at Union County’s Reorganizational Meeting on January 5th.