Learning about the keys to happiness and community service, North students and parents gathered to hear speakers from within and outside of the North community on civic engagement Saturday, Dec. 2 in the auditorium.
According to principal Henry Turner, the event, called “Newton for a Better World,” aimed to “re-emphasize” the school’s main focus of this year on social and civic learning.
“With the busyness of our lives here at North, it’s sometimes hard for us to take a step back and to reflect, and I think Saturday was an opportunity for people in our community to reflect,” said Turner.
Senior Josie Joseph, who presented at the event and helped organize it, outlined the importance of community service. “If you feel passionate about it, go out and engage,” she said.
Senior Patricia Kizito, who also presented for and helped organize the event, explained that community engagement is valuable because it “makes you as an individual happy, it makes others happy, and it makes your surroundings happy.”
The keynote speaker was Dr. Sanjiv Chopra, a best-selling author of multiple books, including The Big Five: Five Simple Things You Can Do to Live a Longer, Healthier Life, and professor at Harvard Medical School. Chopra spoke on achieving happiness through gratitude and charity in his speech.
“It is my fervent hope that you will find love and happiness, and it will light up every single day of your life,” said Chopra.
Chopra outlined the four key characteristics of a happy person: a happy person has “a cadre of good friends,” is able to forgive, serves others through charity, and most of all, demonstrates deep gratitude for all they have.
To illustrate his points, Chopra provided the thoughts of influential historical figures, such as Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Socrates.
Additionally, Chopra discussed how one small action can be very influential. He shared the adage of the “starfish girl,” who tosses beached starfish back into the water one at a time. When a man approaches the girl, saying her efforts are useless and that she cannot make any difference, the girl simply replies, “it made a difference to that one.”
Chopra ended his speech with an invitation for the audience to reflect on their purpose in life and what brings them the greatest joy. He received a standing ovation.
The next speaker, Jeff Feingold, spoke about his charity called Hope and Comfort, which provides sanitary products such as soap and shampoo to those in need.
Similar to Chopra, Feingold emphasized that anyone, no matter means or age can do good. He used the tagline of his charity as an example, “providing dignity one bar of soap at a time.”
When he started his charity, Feingold explained, he and his family personally delivered soap to people who did not have access, and now, he has a team of volunteers and delivered 150,000 hygiene items in the past year.
“Small is big and gets bigger and bigger,” he said.
After Feingold’s presentation, a group of Newton students came on stage and explained their own civic engagement projects, which ranged from volunteer work to raising money for hurricane relief.
One student, sophomore Sadie Winton, spoke about volunteering as a coach and a mentor for “Newton Athletes Unlimited,” which gives sporting opportunities to people with disabilities.
Winton explained that with community service, there is a sense of satisfaction. “Every Saturday morning I get to wake up with a smile knowing I get to help others,” she said.
After the student presentations, David Waters spoke about his charity, “Pie in the Sky,” which sells pies and uses its revenue to feed people with diseases like AIDS and cancer. Waters explained that people with AIDS exhibit with flu-like symptoms, so they stop eating and ultimately die from malnourishment.
Waters has grown his organization to help more people and incorporate more types of charity. He called it a charitable “synergy.” Thirty percent of employees of “Pie in the Sky” have criminal records, and the charity provides job training programs, according to Waters.
Additionally, Waters said he is interested in health care reform and outlined a plan to take preventative measures against hospitalization, like improved access to food for the impoverished. Waters explained that such measures would ultimately decrease the need for emergency hospitalization, which is costly for taxpayers.
After Water’s presentation, more Newton students came on stage speak about their activities in the community.
From the Black Leadership Advisory Counsel club, Joseph, the president, and Kizito, an officer, explained that their goal is to spread awareness and create a safe space for conversation.
After the event, Joseph explained that she enjoys her role as BLAC president because it allows her to “initiate the conversation” on a number of topics. She said that such discussion allows the club to “grow our mindsets together rather than focusing just on what I think.”
Senior Andrew Ding, who volunteers and acts as a liaison for the Newton Wellesley hospital, explained that, in hospitals, he sees people “at their most vulnerable,” and that seeing this aspect of life allowed him to be more compassionate and empathetic.
Ding added, “there’s a lot we can learn from serving other people. It opened a new way of thinking for me.”