Our Youth

Around The School Bell: St. John’s Prep HS  and St. Leo’s Academy Give Back

The second annual St. John’s Prep H.S. Easter Basket Project, spearheaded by the school’s dance director Debra Befumo, provided two local family shelters with gifts. (Photo: St. John’s Prep H.S.)

By Ariana Scalici

Most volunteer organizations do not focus on holidays such as Easter. Without a tangible reminder that the day is special, children living in shelters may not understand its significance.

The Easter Basket Project is a way for the dance teams at St. John’s Prep H.S., Astoria, to provide a moment of happiness to a child undergoing a stressful situation.

Spearheaded by longtime dance program director Ms. Debra Befumo, this project provides Easter baskets to the children and teens residing at the Metro Family Shelter and the Boulevard Family Residence on Queens Boulevard.

This year, we teamed up with St. Leo’s Catholic Academy in Corona and prepared 161 gaily-decorated Easter baskets. Parents, staff, students and alumni from both schools collected items and delivered baskets to the two residences.

St. Leo’s first grader Javion Halbert reflected upon his experience.

“There were a lot of baskets and the kids looked so happy! I liked helping!” said Halbert.

Third-grader Hailey Valcarcel was also filled with excitement.

“Everyone should be able to celebrate Easter,” said Valcarcel. “I wish I could do this for every holiday!”

St. Leo’s principal Jennifer Hernandez, a St. John’s Prep alumna, was also touched by the experience.

“It makes me happy to be able to continue our mission as Catholics in a concrete way with both my former teacher and my own students and have them see the power of love put into action!” said Hernandez.

Dancers spend the day making baskets.
Pictured left to right, are Mr. Melvin Bowers, Recreation Director at the Boulevard Family Residence, St. Leo's Catholic Academy Principal Jennifer Hernandez, St. Leo's student Hailey Valcarcel, St. John's Prep teacher Debra Befumo, St. Leo's student Javion Halbert, St. Leo's parent Izaida Valcarcel
St. John's Prep Dancers Ariana Scalici (left) and Francesca Alaimo (right) and Lilly Alaimo (far right) with the 161 baskets headed to homeless children.
St. Leo's Catholic Academy Principal Jennifer Hernandez, St. Leo's student Javion Halbert,  Metro Family Shelter Social Worker Maria Tolentino, St. John's Prep teacher Debra Befumo, St. Leo's student Hailey Valcarcel, St. Leo's parent Izaida Valcarcel.


Fruits of Lent Project

As a Lenten project, the dancers collected donations of small toys, craft and hygiene items. We also planned fundraisers, such as bake sales, to enable us to buy baskets and additional items.

St. John’s Prep junior Georgia Patronas helped packed a basket.

“Perhaps the kids receiving these baskets will remember this always,” said Patronas, “and this memory will cause them to reflect upon the real celebration of this Easter holiday.”

We all spent Palm Sunday weekend organizing, packing and wrapping baskets.

This project benefits us as well: we get to focus on the true message of Lent –loving and sacrificing for others.

 Contributing to the story was dance program director Debra Befumo.

Scalici is a junior at St. John’s Prep H.S., Astoria, and a member of the Modern Dance Ensemble.

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