On a December night every year, the students and families of Oakwood Elementary gather to give back in a big way. This year on December 7, Family Service Night will bring local and national causes to families at the Plymouth school for its 10th year. Last year with more than 250 attendees, the school and its community gave time, food and even hair to those in need.
Faye Otero has co-chaired the event for close to seven years. “I was blown away by it,” Otero says of first year. “I’d never seen anything like it in another district.”
The service night was inspired by Westside Communities in Action, a local west metro nonprofit that connects individuals to causes. WCIA activities include family service nights at local elementary schools based on the Doing Good Together model. Doing Good Together is a Minneapolis-based national nonprofit that works to make volunteering and service, along with daily kindness, easy for every family. Families will be able to meet with Westside volunteers at the Family Service Night.
At the Service Night, families find a myriad of ways to help the community. Last year, students and families helped donate bins of non-perishable foods to the food shelf across the street, sandwiches to the Marie Sandvik Center, soup kits and birthday party kits to PRISM, ponytails to Pantene Beautiful Lengths via the American Cancer Society, toys and blankets for animals at two local animal shelters, emergency quick-release para-cord bracelets for U.S. Troops, winter-themed centerpieces for the Brookdale Memory Care Community and decorated lunch bags for Meals on Wheels.
Co-chairs of the event, with help from the PTA, seek out organizations and causes that would benefit from Oakwood’s donations.
“Really what it does is plant the seed of giving. As people leave it might turn into a conversation,” Otero says. “Hopefully it keeps inspiring others to get involved in their communities.”
Otero appreciates the annual event connecting her kids to opportunities to give back. “It can be hard to share [these experiences] with kids,” Otero says. “A lot of volunteer options are ages 16 and up. My son’s only in second grade, but I know that it’s going to be something that he’s going to remember and have on his heart for the rest of his life.”
Former Oakwood student Stella Stern, now a sixth grader at Central Middle School, enjoyed being a part of the event for six years. “We got to help others while we were having fun,” Stern says. A favorite experience for Stern was also a spontaneous one. “Last year, last minute me and my friends decided to donate our hair.”
While the event is only open to students and their families, extended families can join in as well. Otero notes that many grandparents are in attendance, and families that are new to Oakwood. It’s a great way for new families to get connected.
“The ability to get involved within the school community, amongst friends and in an environment that’s familiar, sends a strong message to our children,” says co-chair Lindsay Bondy. She sees the other benefit as exposing young families to ways to give back while actively participating and building relationships with the Oakwood community.
Though the impact is easy to track in terms of numbers, Otero recalls experiencing it in person when passing out sandwiches at the Marie Sandvik Center on the night of the event. “Over 600 sandwiches were immediately passed out and consumed,” Otero says. “The impact was felt that night.”
While it may be one night of service, Otero hopes families can leave with a sense of community and a jump-start to give back on their own.
Students participating in Family service night in 2016. photo 1: Alex Hodena, Ashley Hainlin, Josh Quiring, Joey Engdahl, Amelia Krigelski, Lucy Nabedrick, Sage Hartman photo 2: Audrey Tustison photo 3: Amelia Krigelski and Ashley Hainlin photo 4: Emma Hanson and Stella Stern