District News

Students serve community through Project Oak Hills

Posted on: October 25, 2017
Kromme and Brijawi

On July 15, 2017 over 50 students in the Oak Hills High School National Honor Society (NHS) gathered in the high school commons for the first Project Oak Hills event. Students arrived early Saturday morning with purchased lunch items and proceeded to make over 200 bag lunches filled with sandwiches, granola bars, bottled water and fruit. Students headed to downtown Cincinnati, Ohio in small groups and spent the afternoon exploring the city, handing out brown bag lunches to homeless individuals they encountered and interacting with those they were helping.

Project Oak Hills is an ongoing service project where the students in NHS meet on Saturdays to assemble lunches and then deliver them to homeless individuals in downtown Cincinnati. Project Oak Hills is a completely student-run committee within NHS. To avoid registering the events as field trips, securing district bussing and handling other logistics, the group is made of NHS volunteers and events aren’t required.The group is advised by Kyle Funk, though his only involvement for Project Oak Hills is reserving the high school space. The idea generation and execution are set by the students.

The idea for Project Oak Hills was presented by Hamza Brijawi, one of the NHS event coordinators on the executive board and a senior at Oak Hills. Brijawi and his brother take part in a similar event on Sundays with their mosque, where they collect and distribute food to a group of veterans experiencing homelessness.

“I noticed the National Honor Society didn’t really have a consistent volunteer project and I thought this was something simple that our organization could do to help the community on a regular basis,” Brijawi shared.

NHS co-president, senior Abby Kromme, and the rest of the executive board realized the merit in the idea and worked with Brijawi to organize the first Project Oak Hills event over the summer. Using Google forms to determine carpools and organize the shopping the two were able to coordinate the event quickly. Feedback from the students and the people they helped was overwhelmingly positive. Highlanders loved the humbling experience because it gave them a chance to witness homelessness firsthand and meet the people impacted. They enjoyed helping their community alongside their friends while also making positive personal connections in their city. NHS members found nothing but gratitude from the people they met and expressed to the executive board how eye-opening and rewarding the experience was.

“The experience really helped students come together and brought out the best in us as a group,” Kromme added. “We had people volunteering to run out to pick up more supplies with their own money without hesitation. It shows how willing Oak Hills students are to give.”

Because of the overwhelming support for the July event, Kromme and Brijawi planned the second Project Oak Hills event on September 23. Members once again met early Saturday and made and distributed another 200 lunches to the homeless downtown.

“It’s nice to see people who actually care about making a difference in their community and their willingness to give rather than doing the bare minimum just to say they had service hours,” Kromme said. “We had people who were able to make it to the first one but were disappointed they couldn’t do the second due to school and athletics.”

For Kromme and Brijawi, the first two philanthropic afternoons of Project Oak Hills are only the beginning. The NHS is already planning a third session that will focus on a clothing drive so that students can deliver warm clothes to people in preparation for the colder weather, but the planning doesn’t end there. The two are already working on ways to help lay a foundation for future National Honor Society members to help keep Project Oak Hills running for years to come.

In order for pupils to be eligible for National Honor Society, students must meet a minimum requirement of service hours as well as a 3.0 GPA and meet other school involvement requirements. Kromme discussed making at least one session of Project Oak Hills another requirement for each semester to help increase student numbers and involvement. Brijawi hopes to contact local businesses and get them involved in the donation process in the future so Project Oak Hills can better help the community they’re serving. For more information about getting involved or supporting the committee’s work, email Kromme and Brijawi at  [email protected].

Brijawi believes that Project Oak Hills is helping to change the way Oak Hills students view homelessness. He reflected on his biggest takeaway, that preconceptions can be deadly. “Students, and many others, think that the individuals struggling with homelessness might just be lazy or addicted to drugs, which may keep them from wanting to volunteer their time,” Brijawi noted. “Most of the people and families we handed lunches to had just fallen on hard times and needed help getting back on their feet.”

Brijawi explained that this project is important to him because he has family connections in Syria, where the violence has forced many people to become refugees who experience the same struggles as the homeless including lack of food, water, shelter and clothing. “I think it’s important for students to see that stereotypes about homelessness often don’t hold up and that most people have just fallen on hard times and really are trying to get jobs and better their lives,” he included.

Kromme hopes that Project Oak Hills is a big step toward changing the culture of NHS from simply something to put on a college application to an organization that exposes students to new experiences, connects students with one another and makes students want to continue volunteering and serving their community.

“I really want to try and change the stigma about homelessness, “ she added. “I want to push the ideas of hope and help to our fellow students. I want to get them to start using the term people struggling with homelessness rather than saying homeless people, because those people are not defined by their circumstances. They’re people just like everyone else.”

To learn more about Project Oak Hills or to make donations email [email protected]