The Day of Service at Riverside Brookfield High School is no more. The day when fresh-faced, blue T-shirt-clad students spread out through the community performing chores for senior citizens and other public service activities has been cancelled this year, another casualty, school officials say, of budget cuts at the high school.
But school officials remain committed to the concept of service and have replaced the Day of Service with a Month of Service, in which students are encouraged to volunteer with any of an array of local groups such as Project NICE in Brookfield and the Riverside Beautification Day.
“The Day of Service was a wonderful event that brought together huge numbers of students, parents and staff in a coordinated effort to provide service to the communities that support RB,” said Principal Pamela Bylsma in an email to the Landmark. “The logistics of that day were complex and required months of planning, organization and hard work in order to identify individual and organization needs in the community, to mobilize volunteer groups, to orchestrate work schedules, to collaborate with internal and external groups, to secure food and work material donations, etc.
“The linchpin in this event was Angela Ziola (an RB teacher) who received a release period in the past, in part to coordinate events like this one. With our current fiscal constraints, Angela no longer has this release period. In addition, our clerical staff also spent considerable time working on this project.
“Our fiscal resources at present, which has resulted in the significant reduction of non-certified staff, have severely limited our ability to successfully pull off an event of the magnitude of the Day of Service.”
Senior citizens who have been helped by the Day of Service say that the help with chores like cleaning up their yard, washing windows, raking leaves, planting flowers and bushes, turning mattresses and other chores that some senior citizens find difficult to do on their own will be missed.
“I wish they wouldn’t cancel it,” said Anne Diombala, an 86-year-old resident of Riverside who has been helped by the Day of Service in the past. “It meant a lot to me.”
Rita Cunat, a resident of Riverside who also has been helped in past years by the Day of Service, also is disappointed by the cancellation of the Day of Service.
“I’m 79 years old,” Cunat said. “To move a queen-sized mattress is a big production.”
Cunat said that she was always impressed by the energy and good cheer of the students who had come in past Octobers to help her out on the Day of Service.
“They are so happy to be doing it,” Cunat said. “People are just so happy when these kids come.”
She said that senior citizens have been wondering when the Day of Service was going to be this year.
“I heard someone say, ‘I wonder when they’ll be coming'”, Cunat said. “I guess she’ll be surprised.”
The Day of Service began in October 2006, initially under the name of Bulldogs Give Back, by former Superintendent/Principal Jack Baldermann in part as a way to thank the community for approving a nearly $60 million bond referendum that spring to pay for the renovation and expansion of the high school.
The decision to get rid of the Day of Service comes six months after a tax referendum for RBHS was overwhelmingly defeated at the polls.
Last spring Cunat was asked to appear in a video about the Day of Service, which she thought would be used to support the referendum. She declined to do so. School officials insisted that the request had nothing to do with the referendum campaign. Cunat says she hoped that the decision to cancel the Day of Service was not retribution against the community for defeating the referendum.
“I’m not a mind reader,” Cunat said. “It would be very easy to say, ‘Oh that’s true,’ but how do I know. But I would hope that wouldn’t be the reason.”
Bylsma said that RBHS is still committed to service. Many student groups are already involved in service activities throughout the school year.
“RB is committed to the concept of the Day of Service,” Bylsma wrote. “Giving back to our communities is a way to celebrate the important relationships between our school and our community, a chance to thank our citizens for supporting our students and our educational mission, and an opportunity for our students to be involved in volunteer work in order to discover the power of serving others in need. We are proud of this tradition and wanted to continue it even during this time of financial challenge.”