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CHCCS High School Students Win SKJAJA Award

Among many students at Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, service is an integral and often deeply influential aspect of their high school years. Yes, the district requires every student to complete 25 service hours before graduation, but a significant number of students accumulate many times that number before they leave the district.

SKJAJA volunteer event The 10th Annual SKJAJA fundraising celebration highlighted the invaluable contributions from a group of high school students who have provided much of the energy and time that allows the nonprofit to succeed in our community. At its November 1st anniversary event, SKJAJA awarded its Volunteer of the Year recognition to a group of Chapel Hill High and East Chapel Hill High students who have led their schools’ SKJAJA Clubs over the past four years.

SKJAJA Fund is a local nonprofit that provides opportunities for CHCCS students with limited resources to participate in extracurricular activities, such as music lessons and instrument rentals, Tae Kwon Do and international travel. During the past 10 years, SKJAJA has funded a tremendous range of activities for more than 700 students. The student recipients and SKJAJA Club members, in turn, have “paid it forward” by donating thousands of hours of service to Chapel Hill and Carrboro.

Charlotte White, co-founder of SKJAJA Fund, said of the highlighted volunteers from East and CHHS, “These kids looked for new ways to raise money, but better yet – they looked for new ways to help SKJAJA be a stronger part of this community.” The volunteers were “lured” out to the anniversary event (a sold-out, festive shrimp boil with live music) without knowing that they would receive an award; they simply thought they were volunteering another few hours with their host organization.

Colin Liebe, a senior at CHHS, said, “It felt great to receive the award after volunteering for SKJAJA throughout high school. It is always a rewarding experience to see the impact that our work has on the recipients.”

Jessica Kim, another senior at CHHS and the secretary of the SKJAJA club there, said, “When I first joined my freshman year and took the secretary position, I never imagined the impact it would have on my life. Four years later, my excitement and passion for this organization has only grown. I’ve been extremely proud to be a part of this club, especially with the growth we have had at the school. As some of the fund recipients have grown up and entered high school, they have become involved in the club as well, which is super amazing to see. Involving people of diverse backgrounds allows our community service projects to reach a broader group of people and gives an equal opportunity to so many groups of students to get involved in a great cause. SKJAJA has gotten a reputation at our high school for being a fun club where the community service has a visible impact. My high school experience would have been much less fulfilling without being a part of this club.”

“SKJAJA is one of the largest clubs at CHHS and has more than 30 active members every year,” said White. “They’ve been spending their time spreading the word, getting more students involved in raising money – but also getting involved with mentoring and working with our SKJAJA recipients.”

SKJAJA service Saturday The SKJAJA leaders have been tutoring children in the Morris Grove after-school program, tutoring students in the Communiversity after-school program, and they have worked with the summer i9 Sports Camp, and donated their time so that SKJAJA could offer free sports camps to local elementary-aged children. They also participate in the monthly “SKJAJA Saturdays,” when SKJAJA recipients can pay it forward by participating in one of the organized community service days.

Explaining why the annual award was given to a specific group of volunteers, White said, “This group of kids really stood out among their peers as leaders in the SKJAJA Club.  They weren’t all officers, but they have all dedicated a ton of time to SKJAJA and our community.”

White reflected on the group of leaders, “In 2015, a crop of CHHS freshmen came in and stepped up as new Club officers: Ben Gaynes, Jessica Kim, and Kai White. ECHHS sophomores, Claire Pedersen and Jill Daly, contacted SKJAJA and wanted to help raise money – so they started a Club, too. In addition to the Club officers, the following students have really stood out among their peers as leaders in the SKJAJA Clubs: Austin Cicale, Karis Dean, Ben Gant, Ben Gleiter, Caitlin Grubbs, Anna Grace Komada, Emilee Lancaster, Chris Laughon, Colin Liebe, Chris Long, Ella Pedersen, Max Ring, and Phoebe Warren.”

From the SKJAJA website: “SKJAJA helps students uncover their passions and bridges the gaps by paying for activities which aren’t covered by scholarships. But it’s not just about the sports, or arts, or academics. In return for the funding received, grant recipients must “pay it forward” through a community service project. Often, that connection with the community continues long after the requirement is fulfilled.”