Staples High School students win essay contest on volunteerism
WESTPORT — Like many high school students, Reva Kale considers herself a procrastinator.
The Staples High School junior said she has a habit of leaving her weekend homework for Sunday night. Unlike most high school students, though, Kale has volunteered with the Special Olympics through the Westport YMCA every Sunday, adding another task to her already busy weekends.
“It’s hard to get there. Sunday is when I have to do all my work, then suddenly at 3 p.m. I have to go to the YMCA,” Kale said. “But once I get there, I’m fine. I get immersed in it.”
Since 2016, Kale has taught swimming to children with special needs. But her volunteerism extends beyond the pool. This past summer, she began helping as an aquarium ambassador at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, educating visitors.
“When I volunteered, especially with Special Olympics, I learned about a whole new community of people,” she said.
Unsurprisingly, Kale didn’t get into volunteering for recognition. She felt compelled to become involved with the Special Olympics after watching the volunteers who work with her sister, who has autism spectrum disorder, and signed on at the aquarium because she likes the “atmosphere” of the place.
But, thanks to a recent essay contest, in which Kale wrote of her experience as a volunteer, her work is being rewarded.
Kale was awarded first place in the fifth annual Volunteer Square Essay Contest, winning $700 and Beats wireless headphones, beating out 117 other high school submissions.
Staples High School senior Nicole Arellano, who has been an EMT at Westport Volunteer EMS since she was 16, took home third place and a $300 prize.
“Reading the prompt, I immediately knew this was an important scholarship because of what volunteering is to me,” said Arellano, who said she writes for pleasure every night and would like to be a doctor. “Being an EMT has made me a person I never thought I could be. It’s given me confidence, it’s taught me how to be compassionate. I’m really thankful that Volunteer Square has something to recognize that.”
The submissions, which came predominantly from throughout Fairfield County, were reviewed by a team from Volunteer Square and Hearst Connecticut Media, which sponsors the contest.
“Often you’ll get an essay that’s written like an assignment. But both Reva’s and Nicole’s pieces were written with a bit of a creative writing sense. They really described why volunteering is important and the impact they were making on the community,” said Julianne Alberty, executive director of Volunteer Square, which works with 308 nonprofits to place more than 1,700 volunteers that have created profiles on its site. “These essays stood out in a way that others didn’t.”
Both winners said they plan to continue to volunteer as they finish out their high school careers and head to college.
For Kale, because she is there of her own volition, the experience of working with her Special Olympics students is different than holding a job or doing her school work.
“Volunteering gives you something to ground yourself in,” Kale said. “Doing something just because you like to do it is really important.”
Essay contest winners
First place: Reva Kale, a junior at Staples High School in Westport
Second place: Regina Misercola, a junior at Trumbull High School.
Third place: Nicole Arellano, a senior at Staples High School in Westport.