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If you’re a middle schooler and your dad comes up with an idea for you and your friends, you may hate it, resist it, reject it or refuse to even put your phone down long enough to give it a chance or just maybe, you trust your dad’s instincts and embrace it. Ed Trancozo proposed an idea to his then middle school daughter, Anna, that wound up becoming a family and friend tradition that has continued to the present.  Anna Trancozo, Jasmine Matson, Megan Bertrand and Natasha Fidler are seniors in high school now keeping up the “family/friend tradition” Ed envisioned five or six years ago.

What was Ed’s proposal? To personally make Martin Luther King Day a day of service, a day to give back to the community, a day to meet fellow community members who love and practice volunteerism, a day to count their blessings and a day to bring blessings to others in need. This year, Ed suggested volunteering at Rise’s Furniture Re-Sale Store, so off went the family and friends. Anna says, “It is good to be helping others.  I’m doing something I enjoy with people I love and enjoy being with.”  Megan echoes the same, “My whole friend group volunteers and helps others. I’m very blessed.  I enjoy giving back.  I don’t want to sit at home doing nothing.” Natasha says, “Volunteering is fun, not a chore.  You feel good about yourself.  You get to meet new people from different backgrounds. I feel really good about volunteering and each time I do it, it is a recurring good feeling.” Jasmine says, “It feels great to help the community in any aspect.  I’ve learned that many people in my community care deeply about others.  I’ve seen this at many Rise events.  It feels good to contribute to the community that has helped me become the person I am.”

This same core friend group can be found at many other volunteer functions. They help out at the Thursday night soup kitchen at the First United Methodist Church, at Rise holiday parties, at Rise’s food pantry, at TASK in Trenton.  Yup, this crew gets around.  Their parents have encouraged and supported their volunteerism by driving them to and from and promoting quietly the values that make these girls great.  Behind each of these young woman is a family that believes in giving back to the community and they practice what they preach by supporting their daughters through role modeling and their commitment to others.  Each one of these high schoolers is proud of her contributions to her community and each plans to continue her volunteerism next in college and throughout her life.  “Why not?” says Jasmine, “You get to be with people who care about the community and have the same values as you. Every person makes a difference no matter how big or small.  Contribute locally because even small things matter.”  Natasha says, “Always take opportunities to lend a hand.  Volunteering is being part of a community.  You meet people you may not have met otherwise.  When you volunteer, you’re mindful of all that you have and someone knows you’re there for them.” Megan says, “It doesn’t take much time to volunteer, but it can make all the difference to someone.  Even if it only makes them happier for just a few minutes, it’s important.”

All volunteerism has obvious gives and, some not so obvious, takes. These young women have some very important takeaways from this experience.  Anna has come to realize that many people in the community need assistance.  “You don’t really see it, it’s kind of behind the scenes.  Volunteering makes you understand what is really going on.”  Megan is thankful for the things and the people she has in her life.  She is especially glad to have been able to spread a little joy to the kids she has met at the soup kitchen.

Anna is proud to volunteer through Rise at their various locations. “They have events all the time.  They manage everything so carefully.  They’re an impressive organization doing a lot of good work.  Megan thinks, “Rise does an awesome job.  They do things for kids and parents.  They make people a little happier.” Natasha and Jasmine say that from the soup kitchen to the Rise stores, people can get help when they need it.  Rise is group of committed people looking out for those in need.

Anna says that her family and friends will keep up their MLK Day of Service tradition as a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. who did so much to promote diversity. Jasmine sums it up by saying, “Martin Luther King did so much for us as a country.  We need to give back as he did.”

Well, Ed Trancozo, how does it feel to know that you had at least one great idea in your life that was given the seal of approval by teenagers…not just any teenagers though, but rather a caring group of community activists, Anna, Jasmine, Megan and Natasha?    Parents everywhere, Ed, are in awe!

By Joyce Reyhan