Holiday Express founder Tim McLoone captured the spirit of Markham CARES Day best when he told students: “At a certain age, it stops being about you and you can look out into the world and look at other people and their needs … And it feels fantastic.”
For Markham Place School in Little Silver, that age is sixth grade and on Feb. 1, through the collaborative effort of parents, teachers, and community speakers, an inspirational day was designed to help students step outside of themselves and learn what they can do for others. Almost 100 students rotated through four classrooms, each focusing on a theme aligned with Markham CARES (Cooperation, Assertion, Responsibility, Empathy & Self-Control).
McLoone, whose children attend Markham, spoke about his work with Holiday Express, a nonprofit organization that brings an entire party (gifts, food, and singing) to disadvantaged groups during the holiday season. When he started 19 years ago, he explained, they did 10 shows; this past season they did 55 in 40 days.
“It’s the greatest day of their lives,” he said of some of the adults and children they visit, many of whom are seriously ill, living with disabilities, or homeless. After his presentation, students fashioned fleece scarves for Holiday Express to distribute.
Down the hall, Markham graduate Noelle McNeil shared her story of a near-fatal brain injury and how she overcame adversity through the power of positive thinking. In 2005, McNeil, a well-ranked equestrian, was thrown from a horse while practicing for an upcoming horse show. She was in a vegetative coma for 11 days, during which she had a spiritual experience, which later became the basis for her book, ***ITALS Heaven Exists. ***ENDTALS She spoke candidly with the students about her difficulties, including losing friends and being made fun of because of her disabilities. She encouraged them to be themselves and to stand up to bullies.
“If you have something about you that makes you different, embrace it … and be proud,” she told the students. Students then walked around the classroom with paper hearts taped to their backs and wrote one positive character trait about each other. Among the comments being written were “you’re a great friend,” “smart,” “helpful,” and “funny.”
A main part of the day was devoted to thanking our troops and learning more about what they do for our country. U.S. Navy Commander John Bellino, who has children in the district, gave a power point presentation detailing the work that about 63,000 soldiers are doing abroad, specifically in Afghanistan and Africa—from medics to special ops.
Students then had the opportunity to show their appreciation in another room, where Janine Talbot—whose son Lance Corporal Brian Dilger is currently serving in the Marines—and other members of Blue Star Mothers of the Jersey Shore shared their experiences being mothers of soldiers. Talbot passed around photos of Brian and his fellow soldiers. One photo depicted a soldier with a metal detector searching for bombs and Brian walking foot to foot behind him. The students then wrote personalized thank you cards and put together Ziploc bags filled with basic necessities, such as toothpaste, wipes, and gum. The bags will be shipped overseas, in part funded by a $500 donation given to the Little Silver PTO from the Lieutenant Dennis Zelinski Memorial Fund.
“It’s educational,” said sixth grader Emily Sauer of the program, as she filled a bag up with toiletries. “It’s important because we get to learn how people are sacrificing their lives for us to have freedoms.”
What each of the speakers had in common was a personal connection to the Little Silver schools—and that made the experience even more powerful. “Markham CARES Day gives kids access to really positive role models in our community,” concluded Michelle Lane, president of the PTO. “This is a crucial age—they get that the world isn’t perfect, but there are ways we can make a difference.”
Markham CARES Day is co-sponsored by the Friends of Different Learners and the Little Silver PTO.