As the snow tumbles to the ground and lights are being hung around streets and homes, Village High School wraps Christmas gifts for families in need in Hempstead, Long Island. The student government wraps new, donated toys while listening to music and continuing this tradition from previous years.
Ronni Graf, the math teacher at Village School, Great Neck Public Schools alternative high school, kicked off the partnership with Village and the Bethlehem project with Pastor Tito Velazquez in 2012.
“It was the year of Sandy and we were all looking for ways to give back to the community,” explained the beloved math teacher. “We personally donated gifts and my whole family went to their church to help them wrap.”
The donations at first started as a family project and then Ronni thought it would be a great idea for the school to get involved. She started collecting gifts and wrapping them and the students all love doing it.
Pastor Tito has been a pastor for his church ACVM (Christian Assembly New Life) for 12 years while also focusing on community work, like donating gifts and helping reconnect families. He grew up in Central America where he said there were a lot of “broken families.” When he became a Pastor, he wanted to make sure all families were integrated and learned to communicate with each other. Pastor Tito presents the church as a place where parents learn the importance of family and connections. Pastor Tito says that he serves as a bridge between his congregants and God. One word Pastor Tito uses to describe his relationship with God is, “love”. He hopes for his congregants to have the same meaningful relationship as they seek out their own relationships with God.
Partaking in this Village School charitable project has opened students eyes. They now see the people who live near them on Long Island struggling for hope and joy. Students who participated this year in wrapping gifts allowed them to understand the importance of giving back and looking out for others. Doing this project allowed them to be connected to a wider community. Donating gifts can give that five-year-old girl who had a really troubling year the laugh she really needed for the holidays.
—Written by Sigal Weitzman, Student at Great Neck Village School