The giving season: what MHS clubs and teachers are doing to give back

A picture of the board in Ms. Siwak’s room in C305 on Nov. 16. This board documents how many kids in each of her classes have donated toys for Toys for Tots, a fundraiser she has supported for countless years.

Photo by Lia Koski.

A picture of the board in Ms. Siwak’s room in C305 on Nov. 16. This board documents how many kids in each of her classes have donated toys for Toys for Tots, a fundraiser she has supported for countless years.

Lia Koski, Reporter

   The holiday season is not just about receiving gifts but giving them as well. A gift can be a smile, a kind gesture, or in this case, volunteer work for a specific person or community. During the winter seasons, the number of people in need rises significantly, whether they are located in or outside of Mundelein. 

   Volunteer work can start with impacting one person’s life and then continue with “creating a positive cycle by encouraging others to help as well,” Senior Alicia Brak stated. 

   Brak is the president of the National Honors Society at Mundelein High School. NHS encourages students to engage in benefiting their community through volunteering, especially during December. 

   Many NHS members have already participated in events like community Tree Lightings, Feed My Starving Children, and “Pack a Bag” which donated resources to the Fremont Township Center. 

   Nonetheless, NHS members are mainly taking part in individualized volunteer work. For instance, a recent addition to the club by Brak is the “My 1 Hour” service project. This allows students to choose where they want to volunteer based on what they are passionate about. 

   “The project is very open-ended, but we wanted people to be able to work on their character and what’s important to them,” Brak said. 

   Brak herself is planning on attending a trip during winter break to Argentina to volunteer with children and adults with disabilities in a Catholic monastery. 

   Not only are MHS students participating in volunteer work or charities to make this year’s holiday season a little better, but MHS staff members are as well. Kristen Behrens, English teacher, is working to impact the lives of teen moms and Victoria Siwak, Science teacher, is helping to raise donations for Toys For Tots with her classes. 

   Behrens mentors teen moms through an organization called Teen Mother Choices. When she was first asked about mentoring a teen mom her immediate reaction was “absolutely not. I do not have time for this, I have two small children of my own,” she stated. However, after reconsidering, she joined the organization in Aug. 2022. 

   Behrens specifically has one teen mom that she mentors every Tuesday night. They talk about goal setting, financial help, and other opportunities for her daughters. For instance, one night, she had a doctor who came to explain to the mother how critical this time is for her daughters’ brain development. 

   This December, the organization is working to raise money for these women to go holiday shopping for their kids. MHS students can help by donating money through the QR code provided below. 

   When working with these teen moms, Behrens hopes that “it would have intergenerational positive outcomes. I’m not just hoping to change my teen mom’s life for the future, I’m hoping to change her daughters’ lives, and in turn to stop this cycle of teen pregnancies.”    

   Siwak is hoping to brighten the lives of children in need by providing them with toys during this holiday season. She has done this for several years in the past, but this will be her first year doing it since the pandemic. 

   Siwak’s system to donate as many toys as possible is effective. “I currently have 120 students. So in each class, I made a bar of the number of students in that class [and of how many toys were donated by them]. If every student in all of my classes donated one toy each we would donate 120 toys this holiday season. Making 120 children’s lives a little happier,” she explained. 

   The Mundelein High School club, Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), led by English teacher Ryan Buck, is also working with Toys for Tots. They have placed a bin in the main office dedicated to gathering toy donations. They encourage all MHS students to donate if they can. 

   “I think that this is donating to actual kids who need help. Sometimes when you just give dollars, you don’t know where those dollars go. With this, these toys actually make it into the hands of children which I think is so powerful and so special,” Siwak said.

The Teen Mother Choices QR code to donate to teen moms in order for them to buy holiday gifts for their children. (Provided by Ms. Behrens. )