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A Season of Service Learning
Greg Kwasnik

As the holiday season approaches, a growing contingent of Holderness students, faculty, and staff are steadfastly working to transform a season of giving into a season of service to others.

What is Service Learning

Throughout the fall, students and faculty have spent nearly 800 hours serving the local community. They’ve raised more than $4,000 to support cancer research; prepared 140 meals for a local homeless shelter; volunteered as playground monitors at our local public elementary school; and started stockpiling wood on campus for local families in need of heating assistance. Looking ahead to December, students are already organizing a winter clothing drive and collecting holiday presents for local children.  

“When I counted up the number of hours of service that we've done just in the last three months, it's an astounding 778 hours of service,” said math teacher Pam Mulcahy, who also serves as the school’s Community Service Coordinator. “That’s a lot of hours of service in a school of 300 kids. That’s pretty amazing.”  

A Swift Start to Service

While service to others has always been fundamental to a Holderness education – exemplified by the school’s motto, “For God and Humankind” –  the last year has seen a significant increase in student service. The start of this trend can be traced to the school's annual Day of Giving last February, a pivotal moment when the Holderness community pledged to match each donation received with an hour of service in the local community. At the end of that single day in February, the school’s students, faculty, and staff had committed to an astounding 1,650 hours of service.

While the school’s service efforts ramped up last spring, the current school year has seen a marked increase in service opportunities for students. These opportunities have been coordinated by the newly-formed Service Council, a group of students who meet weekly to brainstorm ideas for helping others.

“Every day there's some chance to get involved in doing something,” says Trace Schroeder, a member of the Council. “It’s an opportunity to have a meaningful connection with the people around you and have purpose in your life beyond your friendships and your school and your comfort zone.”

Why is Service Learning Important

One innovative idea adopted by the Council this fall allocated all proceeds from the Holderness School Snack Bar to fund meals for Bridge House, a facility in Plymouth that provides emergency shelter, food, job training, and transitional living support to more than 175 individuals and families annually. Students who staffed the school’s snack bar - cooking and selling smash burgers, quesadillas, milkshakes, and candy to their fellow students - used the proceeds to purchase and prepare meals for Bridge House, which they delivered each Wednesday. As of early December, the group has delivered 140 meals to the facility. 

And rather than simply dropping off the food and heading back to school, students ate those meals alongside the Bridge House residents. Sharing a weekly meal allowed students to learn the residents’ stories and develop connections with them. 

“I think it gives the students much more of an insight into the actual causes of poverty, what poverty looks like and feels like,” said Ms. Mulcahy, who is a faculty advisor to the Service Council. “It humanizes poverty, which I think is important for kids.”

Service Learning Projects

Raising Awareness 

The month of October – Breast Cancer Awareness Month – was a particularly active one for service at Holderness. In just one month, students raised more than $4,000 to support cancer patients and their families by making and selling donuts, selling cancer ribbons, and reinstating the school’s Relay for Life fundraiser.

Reid Donovan ’25 and Kelly McVeigh ’26 led the October service initiatives. Both students have watched friends and family battle cancer. They joined other students in courageously telling their stories during an Outdoor Chapel early in the month, garnering unified support from the school community. Students and teachers rallied behind the cause, purchasing donuts, buying cancer ribbons, and donating money for cancer awareness and research. Not even a cold rainstorm could dampen spirits during the Relay for Life fundraiser at the end of the month. When the rain began to fall, the entire community responded with rain gear and spent 12 hours lapping the campus. As the relay came to a close at 10:30 p.m., the school – which had logged a collective 5,100 miles that day - came together for one final lap as a community. 

“It was better than I could have imagined. I didn't expect to have that much of a turnout, but it was amazing,” Reid said. “Even though we started with the idea, it wouldn't have been possible without the community support. I feel like that was the thing that made a big difference - the community.”

Service Heats Up

With its wooded 600-acre campus, Holderness School is home to thousands of trees – a significant number of which fall, or need to be trimmed, every year. This fall, the school focused on repurposing that fallen timber by creating a wood bank for local families in need of heating assistance.  

Spearheaded by Assistant to the Director of College Counseling Stephen Uhlman, the idea for a “wood bank” came to him during last year’s Day of Giving. “I thought it would work because the school has space to do it, service is a part of our ethos, there are plenty of students willing to work, and the school has a lot of woodlands,” Stephen says. 

Students in the school’s Job Program spent Sunday mornings stacking wood in a field on campus. “I think they like it so far,” Stephen says. “It’s hard work, but I think it’s rewarding.” 

Pemi Tree Works (co-owned by former Holderness teacher Alexandra Disney) donated most of the wood after cutting down several aging trees on campus this summer. The company has pledged to continue donating wood to the school’s wood bank, and Holderness will distribute the wood, for free, through the Plymouth Area Community Closet’s heating assistance program. 

Spirit of Giving

With the holidays drawing near, students are actively pursuing even more service opportunities. They’re collecting holiday presents and winter clothing for children at Bridge House and Paul Smith Elementary School in Franklin, where 58 percent of students live below the federal poverty level. They've even spent time knitting mittens for kids with help from seniors at the Plymouth Senior Center. And, through their tireless fundraising efforts - last Sunday's Jingle Run on campus being just the latest example - they've purchased holiday gifts for 20 residents of Bridge House.

If the holidays are a season of giving, then these students have truly given of themselves - and, in so doing, brought the school’s mission to life. It's a fact that’s not lost on Head of School John McVeigh.  

"Service to others is at the very core of our mission here at Holderness - it's a central way that we work toward the betterment of humankind and God's creation,” John says.

“I'm thrilled with how adults and students are leading Holderness into so many meaningful service opportunities where teams of students work together toward a common goal. These students are making a difference by serving others, enjoying their time together, and their positive spirit is contagious."    

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