Every year, DOVE runs an “Adopt-a-Family” holiday assistance program through which donors can provide families in need with gifts that they have placed on a wish list. Given COVID-related safety precautions, this year the assistance program shifted to only accepting donations that will go towards those gifts. This is where Belmont Hill students Jalen Walker ‘21 and Daniel Drucker ’23 saw an excellent opportunity for Belmont Hill to get involved.
The idea for the DOVE project came out of a School Senate meeting. Jalen and Daniel bounced ideas back and forth about creating some sort of holiday donation program for Belmont Hill in December. Daniel mentioned that he had connections to a domestic violence shelter, DOVE, that coordinates an annual holiday program similar to what the boys were seeking to organize.
From there, the boys sent out a Google Form to all faculty members, asking if they and their advisees would be interested in participating in the project. It didn't take long for them to receive 35 "Yes" responses from advisories across all grades of the School, the admissions team, and even an advisory interested in taking on two wish lists. Next, they relayed these numbers to their DOVE contact, Jessica Cohen, DOVE's Director of Residential Services, who oversees the Adopt-a-Family program, and she quickly provided them with the wish lists. “After we received these wish lists, Daniel and I got to work assigning them to the groups that had committed to the project,” Jalen explains. “Each advisory was assigned with either a family's wish list of "basic needs" or a DOVE participant's individual wish list. Participants' wish lists came from families of all different makeups, including some with twins and one with nine children.”
After assigning the wish lists, they were sent to the faculty so that they could share with their advisees and begin to think about how to best acquire the wish list items. Along with the wish lists, they created a document that included suggestions about how faculty members could be considerate in their approaches to engaging their advisees in the project. Participation in this project was completely optional.
With the help of Mr. George, the boys assembled collection boxes, and with the help of Mrs. Rupley, they were able to locate each advisory's meeting location and drop them off. After carefully monitoring the collection boxes, the final collection was today, Tuesday, December 14.
“There was no specific goal heading into the project,” Daniel says. “However, now with seven families and 35 total wish lists assigned to different groups, we're hoping to make the DOVE participants' wishes 'come true' and get all of their items donated. From what I've seen and heard so far, we're on our way to reaching that goal, and many advisories have gotten their wish list items, even including extra gift items, in some cases.”
Jalen notes that as the project progressed, it became increasingly meaningful for him. “Early in the process, an idea that the team and I agreed on is that introducing an educational piece into the project could do wonders for expanding the Belmont Hill community's understanding of domestic violence and increasing our collective empathy for those we are serving.”
He says they drew inspiration from Will Forde '05's interview with Caroline Randall Williams, which was presented to the School, and worked with Ms. Schmunk on a recorded interview with Jessica Cohen, thinking that this would be the best way to spread awareness about DOVE and the services they provide. “Sitting down with Jessica and hearing her share stories about DOVE participants, the Adopt-a-Family program, and the impact it's had in the past was deeply meaningful for me.”
Since the interview was shared, Jalen says he has received an abundance of emails and has been stopped many times by faculty members sharing what they thought about the interview and how impactful Jessica's words were. Especially moving was a story about a young boy who called her Santa after catching a glance at a Lego set he would be receiving through the holiday giving program. “I think this speaks volumes to the Belmont Hill community's willingness to listen and learn more about the experiences of those who we may not have knowledge of or relations to in our daily lives,” says Jalen.