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The County Chronicle

The County Chronicle

NHS volunteers support community programs with Smile Kits and CyberSlam bags

On a Saturday morning in mid-December when they could have been sleeping, hanging out with friends, or anything else, dozens of students filled the cafeteria to volunteer their time. A couple of hours later, they’d filled hundreds of string bags, some to support cancer patients and some to prepare for an upcoming student cybersecurity conference.

For the past six years, the National Honor Society and Future Business Leaders of America clubs have undertaken an annual donation drive to create Smile Kits, which are bags of items to support female breast cancer patients. They include items to help keep the women comfortable, like blankets and fuzzy socks, as well as ways to stay occupied, like coloring books with colored pencils. 

“Anything that you would think that they would need going through chemo,” NHS officer Maya Gonen said. “That’s pretty much our purpose.”

The clubs partner with the Barnett-Searing National Cancer Foundation to distribute the kits to local cancer patients.

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“We are one of the biggest supporters of Barnett-Searing,” NHS sponsor Jennifer Marden said. “It’s pretty near and dear to my heart because this is named after a girl I went to high school with, Jenny Searing, who died of cancer. Her brother started this foundation, so when he asked me to get involved, I said absolutely.”

This year, volunteers collected items for and packed 370 kits, surpassing their goal of 250. In addition to practical and functional items, each Smile Kit includes a colorful card with a handwritten message of support from a student. “It makes it a little more personalized for these cancer patients,” Marden said. “You can go on to the Barnett-Searing website and look at all of their thank yous, which is really touching.”

Smile kits are lined up outside the cafeteria, waiting to be packaged and delivered. The kits are given to local female cancer patients to support them as they undergo chemotherapy. (Evelyn Kuzminski)

It isn’t only the recipients of the Smile Kits that are moved by them. It means a lot to the students who volunteer their time and energy to put them together for the patients, Gonen said. 

“It’s just knowing you made a difference,” Gonen said. “You made a difference for somebody who’s going through a really hard time. It’ll make them brighten up. It’ll give them positivity in a time of such negativity.”

“Their efforts are worthwhile,” Marden said of the volunteers’ work. Next year, NHS hopes to again exceed 350 kits, Gonen said.

In addition to the Smile Kits packing, NHS volunteers were also putting bags together to prepare for CyberSlam. “It’s good to have two things going at once,” Gonen said.

CyberSlam is a day-long conference event for cybersecurity students all across the state, hosted at George Mason University on January 19. The event was created by Marden and a teacher at Briar Woods High School and has grown dramatically since its start three years ago.

“The first year we had a little over 100 kids, last year we had over 300 kids, and this year we already have registered 575,” Marden said. Each student receives an individualized bag for the event, and Marden said that having NHS volunteers help pack the bags was “incredible” and “saved us about five days of work.”

Students sort Cyberslam swag bags into boxes organized by the school. The Cyberslam event in January brings students from all over the state to participate in a conference on cyber security. (Evelyn Kuzminski)

At the conference, students are grouped by experience and can choose from 12 different workshops to attend. A keynote speaker with experience working for both the Central Intelligence Agency and the United States Postal Service will share stories with students of his work in cybersecurity.

“It’s fascinating,” Marden said. “Hopefully it sparks some interest in cybersecurity.” As an industry, cybersecurity has a 0% unemployment rate. Marden hopes CyberSlam will help build students’ intrigue in the cyber field and potential cyber-related careers. 

The Smile Kits and CyberSlam packing was one of several service events NHS and FBLA host throughout the year, such as the annual food drive for the Tree of Life food pantry in Leesburg.

“That was a huge success and very, very needed for our community,” Marden said.

Coming off another round of success with the Smile Kits and CyberSlam, student volunteers will have more opportunities for community service, but “what we decide to do in the spring, I’m not sure,” Marden said.

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About the Contributor
Evelyn Kuzminski
Evelyn Kuzminski, editor-in-chief
Evelyn Kuzminski is a senior at Loudoun County High School. In addition to two years as the layout editor and a staff writer, she serves this year as an editor in chief for The County Chronicle. She attends the Academy of Engineering & Technology, where she has taken courses in math, science, entrepreneurship, and information technology. Outside of school, Evelyn enjoys coaching youth volleyball, hostessing at a local restaurant, traveling, hiking, and listening to Taylor Swift.

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