Syosset Students, Staff Put Their ‘Backs’ into It

Drive provides 150 backpacks of needed items for homeless teens

The Syosset High School community recently wrapped up a monthlong drive to collect much-needed items for the homeless through the We CARE (Compassionate, Altruistic, Responsive and Effective) Backpack fundraiser. Representatives from a cross-section of Syosset High School clubs and community-based organizations were on hand for a culminating reception in which high school representatives and other contributors presented 150 stuffed backpacks and an additional 20 crates to Nassau Haven, an emergency shelter for runaway and homeless teens.

Items in the backpacks and crates included warm socks, gloves, scarves, rain ponchos, various hygiene products, first aid kits, bottled water, juice boxes, granola bars and other healthy nonperishable snacks, among others. Syosset High School counselor Deborah Contino served as the key adviser for the We CARE drive, overseeing the lead student group, the school’s Awareness Club, as well as garnering help from other counseling department members and several other members of the high school faculty and administration.  

“We learned to ask ourselves, what can I do to help and how can I make things a little better?" said Contino. “Then, with collaboration the question becomes, what can we do together to create positive change? One voice becomes hundreds, becomes thousands. In a school of about 2,300 students and 250 faculty and staff members each voice was heard.”

Word of the We Cares drive spread, with some even outside of the high school making contributions. The U.S. Army donated 16 backpacks filled with a ready pack meal, T-shirt and a hat.

During the ceremony, Army representatives joined student ambassadors in presenting Nassau Haven officials with backpacks on behalf of their respective clubs. Superintendent of Schools Dr. Thomas Rogers also presented a backpack on behalf of central administration.

Leslie Epps, one of the school’s executive We CARE student ambassadors, consulted with Nassau Haven to develop a list of needed survival items, which was distributed to teachers, club advisers, coaches and departments – essentially recruiting every facet of the school to sponsor a backpack.

“When this was initially conceived, our desire was to alleviate some of the suffering of those assisted by Nassau Haven,” said Leslie. “We began to spread the word about the fundraiser, just to gain input, and before it even began, anticipation and excitement grew to the point where classes, clubs, teams and departments began to reserve backpacks. From that point on, we knew that the fundraiser would be successful, but we never dreamed that it would grow to such a grandiose scale.”