By Jim Lambert
Several Union Catholic students attended the sixth annual Union County Student Training Enrichment Program Summit on Friday at Kean University.
Sponsored by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders, the day-long event invited high school students from throughout Union County to participate in hands-on activities focused on leadership, personal growth and civic engagement.
The Union Catholic students who attended were Kai Chiang, Julie Emmons, Aiyana Williams, Annie Rosenzweig, Sophia Herrera, Scott Kernen, and Lauren-Marie Diawatan.
The STEP attendees had the opportunity to participate in workshops such as “You Be the Judge,” which focuses on crafting effective elevator speeches, and “How to be an Effective Leader,” which focuses on identifying the diversity, concerns and values of others. Students also had the opportunity to attend breakout sessions focused on personal growth, leadership, and suicide awareness and prevention while collaborating with others to work through the day’s activities.
The headline event of Union County STEP, the Civic Engagement Challenge, brings students together to brainstorm and create a county-wide community service campaign to be enacted through the Freeholder Board in connection with Union County students. The service initiative that receives the most votes at UC STEP and via the online poll will become a countywide project undertaken by participating Union County high schools. Judged based on involvement, enthusiasm, and creativity, the winning project will receive a $1,000 START NOW Grant from the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
“Union Catholic has participated in this unique program since it inception six years ago,’’ said Mrs. Jennifer Dixon, the Director of School Counseling at UC. “The program enables students to develop their leadership skills while working cooperatively with other students to problem solving on a county-wide level. This program teaches students about servant leadership and the importance of working together toward a common goal.’’
Rosenzweig, Emmons, Kernen, and Williams said the STEP Summit was very informative and they were proud to represent Union Catholic.
“I feel that having a day dedicated to coming up with ideas to prevent suicide is very important,’’ said Rosenzweig, who lives in Millburn. “You can walk around school and not know who is going through something difficult, which is the scariest part. But with just one smile you can completely change someone’s day.
“I thought it was a great opportunity to collaborate with students from other schools from Union County on how to stop the issue of suicide,’’ said Emmons, a junior who lives in Scotch Plains. “To be put in leadership roles and come up with ideas on how to help people in our community was very helpful.’’
“I learned that the sadness about suicide is that it’s something that not only affects the person who is thinking about it, but it also affects everything and everyone around them,’’ said Kernen, a sophomore from Short Hills. “It’s a natural feeling to feel stress or be upset about something, and through connection and activity there are ways people can learn how to deal with their problems and struggles and learn from other people who have experienced those same feelings. I felt the program was great. I met a lot of new people, made new friends, and everyone was happy to connect. I think it helped me become more confident and more willing to share my ideas with people.’’
“It was a great learning opportunity,’’ said Williams, a junior who lives in Plainfield. “And it was great to meet lots of new people from different schools and work together and do fun and interactive games. I really learned a lot.’’
Rosenzweig, Emmons and Williams had a very busy day on Friday.
After attending the STEP Summit, they went to the Short Hills Mall to deliver hundreds of postcards to Santa to Macy’s on National Believe Day. All the postcards were written by UC students. Macy’s made a donation to the Make A Wish Foundation for each postcard.
“It really shows that we’re giving back to the kids in the Make A Wish Foundation, and it feels good to help make a difference and give them a positive memory,’’ said Williams.
“Make A Wish has always been a big part of my life,’’ said Rosenzweig, a senior. “I’m going to continue doing this the rest of my life. It’s a tradition for me and means a lot to me to help anyway I can.’’