Synergy Volunteers


Early one recent October morning a group of Synergy middle schoolers and parents made their way through the Tenderloin’s darkened streets to serve breakfast to the homeless at Glide Memorial Church. The event was one of several recent volunteer opportunities Synergy has participated in as part of a renewed effort to connect students with the world around them.  

There is a long history of community service at Synergy. Over the decades, students, their families and teachers have come together for beach clean-ups, community gardening and food and clothing drives. But in recent years, volunteerism has taken a back seat to other areas of focus, namely academics and eco initiatives.

“We lost a little of what grounded us at Synergy and we need to go back to that,’’ said Rita Franklin, director of admissions and curriculum. “And that’s what we’re really trying to do this year – weave social justice back into the fabric of who we are.’’

Evonne Thong, a first grade parent, has lead this new effort. Volunteerism is a core part of her parenting philosophy and when she arrived at Synergy last year she looked around and saw right away that there was a specific way she could contribute to the school. She decided to see what might happen if she organized Star Room parents for a trip to the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank.

“People were like, “This is a great idea, and we can bring our family? Super!’’ she recalled. “That was really encouraging.’’

About a dozen families signed up. Evonne took the experiment further with the next food bank event and included the Rainbow Room. Twenty families signed up.

After that, Rita approached Evonne.

“This seems to be a passion of yours, ‘’ Rita recalled saying to Evonne. “And this is something we used to do. Can you take this over for us?’’

Happily, Evonne said.

This year,  Evonne joined forces with the Parent Involvement Committee which hopes to help her expand her efforts. The Glide Memorial event was one of several opportunities planned for the remainder of 2018. Glide needs 85 volunteers each day for the 2,000 breakfast, lunch and dinner meals it serves. Youngsters aged 12 and up are invited to come help.

During their 7 a.m. breakfast shift, students and parents suited up in plastic aprons and hairnets. They served grits, hard boiled eggs and pastries, wiped down tables and kept coffee carafes filled as they greeted hundreds of men and women who entered the brightly lit dining hall that morning.

Vivian Cross, a 7th grader, spent her busy shift primarily serving seniors and disabled clients in a special section of the dining hall. Vivian is honest: Getting up before the sun to volunteer on a Sunday wasn’t something she’d been looking forward to. And she was also nervous about interacting with people she sees on the city’s streets who live such different lives from hers. But afterward she said she would do it again. As long as it wasn’t so early in the morning.

“It was nice to see the look on people’s faces when they got the food,’’ she said. “It was a really nice feeling.’’

That’s exactly the shift in thinking that Rita and Evonne are hoping for.

In September, younger Synergy students got their chance to help out during another trip to the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank. Kindergarteners and older students boxed thousands of plums that would be sent to shelters and food pantries across San Francisco and Marin Counties.

“It’s great to be able to volunteer as a family,’’ said Kelly White, a new Synergy parent. “It’s challenging for some organizations to provide meaningful, age appropriate work for children. This one really did.’’

Parent Suzanne Esser likes how these opportunities help her two sons to, “open their eyes and leave their bubble.’’

“Every time we participate Nico and Luca have asked when they can go back and help again,’’ she said. “And getting to do this with schoolmates is always a huge bonus.’’

There are challenges such as figuring out how to best advertise the events to families. Also, many events occur on weekends and conflict with sports and church obligations. And some efforts have fallen flat such a habitat restoration in October. No one signed up.

“It’s a learning process,’’ Evonne said about figuring out how to get the community to respond.  

Rita and Evonne both want to eventually see volunteerism seamlessly woven into the school’s curriculum so that students begin to develop their own ideas of how they want to help and come to view such work as a natural part of their lives.

“Ultimately that’s my idea of an education,’’ said Evonne. “You plant some seeds and they take it from there. ‘’

Remaining 2018 events include two more trips to the San Francisco Food Bank in November and December and an opportunity to help with habitat restoration in November.

– By Thaai Walker, Synergy Parent

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