Students step up for holidays
Kimberly Kim, 17, puts away collected items for needy families Friday at Vernon Hills High School. | Joe Shuman~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 11, 2013 1:58AM
“People probably think high-schoolers are the most self-centered people on earth,” Vernon Hills High School librarian Monica Tolva said
That opinion doesn’t apply to VHHS and Libertyville High School students who are pitching in to help needy families this holiday season.
Both schools have been doing an adopt-a-family program for 13 years. Tolva has been overseeing the VHHS effort for seven years, and Jennifer Uliks, LHS student acitivities director, has been at the helm at LHS for 12 of her 13 years with the school.
LHS partners with Catholic Charities and VHHS with Maristella, a Libertyville nonprofit whose mission is promoting self-sufficiency of homeless women and mothers with children in Lake County.
The organizations funnel to the schools names and wishlists from Lake County families whose holiday seasons aren’t looking too bright. The students then raise money, shop for the families and wrap all the presents. The families often include scores of kids. Tolva said that of the 261 members of the 56 families VHS is helping, 205 are children.
Uliks said 90 families will be helped by their program, which is named W.I.S.H. – Wildcats Initiative for Sharing at the Holidays.
Both schools’ efforts culminate in a dinner and evening of entertainment for the families receiving the gifts.
In Vernon Hills, Tolva said this year’s celebration has a penguin theme, so, among other things, students will dress up as the polar creatures.
Libertyville will have the Butterfield Middle School choir sing carols, play games and do crafts in the gym for the families’ kids and more.
Tolva said the project becomes an event that involves their whole town with the village providing free tickets to a yearly light show and local businesses lending a hand. Uliks said the Libertyville community also pitches in, letting kids collect money inside local businesses, hold fundraisers such as selling hot chocolate and more.
Tolva and Uliks agreed that the best part of the whole undertaking is seeing the positive effects on their students.
“It’s so cool to see how inspired they get,” Uliks said. “I get a warm feeling just talking about it.”
VHHS student leaders Eva Rusnak, 18, Jasmine Carter, 17 and Kimberly Kim, 17, can all attest to that firsthand. All three have worked on the project for multiple years.
“It feels great to make people happy when they open the gifts, especially the kids,” Rusnak said. She also likes the fact that VHHS works with a local agency so people can see the need that exists in their own community.
“It’s an eye opener to some of the students,” she said.
Tolva, for her part, said the number of students who volunteer for the dinner is overwhelming.
“Our meetings for volunteers are spilling out the door and we sometimes have more volunteers than we have guests,” she said.