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Round Lake Scholars give back to community

Scholar Natalie Cena, 15, of Round Lake makes a blanket for a community service project called Cozies for Chemo during the Schuler Service Team Community Service Week at Round Lake High School.
Scholar Natalie Cena, 15, of Round Lake makes a blanket for a community service project called Cozies for Chemo during the Schuler Service Team Community Service Week at Round Lake High School.

ROUND LAKE – Cafeteria tables were cleared away in the common area of Round Lake High School on June 26. In their place, large squares of fleece were spread out across the floor in various colors and patterns.

While the Beatles crooned “Hard Day’s Night” through a speaker, nearly 20 teenagers and their friends and family were busy cutting strips into the fabric to transform the squares into blankets to deliver to patients at the Zion Cancer Treatment Center. 

“Cozies for Chemo” was just one of the community-oriented events the Round Lake High School Schuler Service Team had planned for its second annual Community Service Week. Starting June 24, the team of about 30 high school students and alumni participated in several service activities to give back to the community, dedicating hours to organizations that serve its community, including the Avon Township food pantry, Bernie’s Book Bank and the Hillcrest Nursing Home. 

Schuler Scholar coach Isabelle Harari said the community service week was an idea borne from the scholars themselves: They wanted to find ways to give back to the community that had given them so many opportunities, including being part of the Schuler Scholar program.

“Schuler is an organization that really values community service and this seemed like a great opportunity to start talking about – or continue the conversation, rather – about giving back to your community,” Harari said. “We wanted to continue that conversation, and personally I thought it was a great opportunity to thank the Round Lake community specifically for hosting Schuler here at Round Lake High School.”

The Schuler Scholar program is a nonprofit organization that “equips high-achieving and underrepresented students to gain access to and succeed at highly selective colleges and beyond.” Elaine Teter, communications manager, said that these students are typically first-generation, low-income or otherwise underrepresented. The Schuler Scholar Program exposes these students to the conversation of college and the avenues and opportunities it could provide them for their future. 

“Sometimes the students in different schools, they don’t understand what they can achieve,” Teter said. “Sometimes at some schools and at some groups, they’re not talking about going to college, they’re not talking about Stanford. … We open that conversation up. We show them what they’re capable of, that they’re capable beyond what they can even imagine.”

The Schuler Scholar Program has 13 school partnerships in the Chicago area, including Round Lake High School. The Community Service Week that the Round Lake Schuler scholars have created serves as a pilot program that Harari hopes will expand to other Schuler partners. 

Round Lake High School’s Schuler chapter hosts about 50 scholars. 

Mayra Perez is a Schuler Scholar, first as a student at Round Lake High School and now at Claremont McKenna College in southern California. She returned this summer to complete an internship with Schuler and participated in “Cozies for Chemo.”

“I remember when I was in high school, I did a service project, too,” she recalled, tying strips of hot pink fleece into knots as she spoke. “It was in Chicago and we just went to this eco-friendly farm where we helped with bees and we went to a greenhouse, but this is so different: Doing a whole week that’s very involved in our community – not just our community, but this is very important to us to give back to a program that has helped us so much.”

Soon-to-be sophomore Magali Ruiz said her Schuler coaches and fellow scholars have helped her adjust to the demands of her new high school career. The Community Service Week, for her, is a collection of small ways she can personally make a difference in her world. 

“I know I can’t do that much,” she said. “I can’t solve world hunger or the problems in the world, but in doing something like this, you’re helping people out – even if it’s a small thing.”

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