Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic, RISE Students are Volunteering in Their Communities

Student Voice and Success

Students across the network may be at home, but they are finding creative ways to stay connected and give back to their local communities. Over the past few months, we’ve been struck by a growing number of examples of students responding to needs in their communities. Shortly after the pandemic hit, Lorenzo Mazzara, a rising senior at Westhill High School in Stamford, set up a account hoping to raise funds to buy face shields for Stamford Hospital workers after learning about personal protective equipment shortages in caring for COVID-19 patients. Lorenzo raised $700, and purchased and donated 60 face shields to Stamford Hospital. Lorenzo didn’t stop there; he was inspired to continue these kind acts with the help of his friends, Talia Kunin, Nate Cooper and Gaurov Bansal.

Lorenzo called up his friends, also rising seniors, and asked them to join in to help the community. They decided to call their group the “Westhill Angels.” Nate has been recruiting volunteers, Talia operates their social media, and Gaurov created and operates their website, which you can check out here. Lorenzo says the Westhill Angels’ goal is simple: make life a little easier for Stamford families.

“We’re trying to do good for the community so during this quarantine people aren’t facing as many challenges,” says Lorenzo. 

It’s important to note, the Westhill Angels are organizing fundraisers and donating goods while also studying for exams and maintaining their grades! Talia operates the Westhill Angels’ Facebook and Instagram pages, and she says she’s okay with the  busy days and nights because she knows it is for the betterment of her community.

“We still have distance learning, we still have Advanced Placement exams that are going on right now, so we have spent our time either studying or just hanging around but a lot of us used to do a lot of extracurricular activities and those are all gone,” says Talia. “I think the most efficient way to spend our time, in addition to staying healthy and being with your family, is helping somebody else.”

Students across the RISE Network are stepping up, just like the Westhill Angels, to support their neighbors. At Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk, football players are helping to organize meals for McMahon families dealing with food insecurity. Football captain Jake Seco said players on the football team are actively checking in with their friends around the school to see if their families need a helping hand. 

“We’re all coming together and finding people, talking and asking kids how they’re holding up, how their families are doing, is everything alright at home?” says Jake.

They’re calling their efforts “Meals for McMahon.”  Initially Brien McMahon football coach Jeff Queiroga wanted to help football families in need, but due to the current circumstances, decided to help all McMahon families. The football players were on board, and Meals for McMahon has identified 82 families to receive over 1,000 meals being delivered by local restaurants in and around Norwalk. Jake described a ripple effect of kindness in the McMahon community, in addition to tighter bonds with the school community.

“The definition of family isn’t blood, it’s a bond and our bond with each other and our community is so strong that we just had to give back during this time of crisis,” says Jake.

The Westhill Angels are having a similar effect in Stamford. After forming in the middle of April, they’ve provided weekly meals to educators teaching the children of essential workers at the Children Learning Center of Fairfield County (CLC) in Stamford, collected and donated over 1,000 books for children at the CLC, raised over $7,000 for Stamford Hospital through their account, and have volunteers making trips to the grocery store for the elderly in Stamford. 

These students have been hearing words of gratitude from their community and even landed on the news, as the Westhill Angels were featured in the Stamford Advocate and Fox 61. Lorenzo says it’s been overwhelming. 

“Every time the response has been, ‘you guys are amazing, you guys are the actual definition of angels,’ ” says Lorenzo.