By Josh LaBella
Voice Staff Reporter
Liana Suarez, a senior at West Haven High School, said she wants to put her best foot forward by helping the community that gave her a childhood. For that reason, she said, she decided to join the Peer Advocates group at the high school.
Monica Hardy, the co-advisor of Peer Advocates and special education teacher at the high school, said the group is a select set of seniors that raise food, money and toys throughout the year and do community service in the city.
“[They do it] for the kids of West Haven,” said Hardy, “and, basically, for all the families. Whenever there is something in need they do community service to help the community of West Haven.”
On Thursday Dec. 20 the Peer Advocates hosted their Toys for Joy event. Hardy said the purpose of the event was to give toys to families who need help getting gifts for their children for Christmas. She said Peer Advocates raised about $3,000 with help from the West Haven professional firefighters, who matched their donations, as well as the police department, who donated toys.
“We have about 450 children [getting toys],” said Hardy, “which equals about 160 families altogether.”
Suarez said she and the other peer advocates at the Anna V. Molloy School were spending the day putting the toys in bags and giving them to families. She said it was a busy day but it made her feel very accomplished.
“Recently one of the kids was here,” said Suarez, “and the mom noticed that the gift that we ended up giving to them was one that the little boy had on their list. So they were really excited for that.”
According to Suarez, she knew she wanted to be in Peer Advocates since she was a freshman. She said she noticed how much they did for the community and that community service is important to her.
“Every time we would bring the bags out there the parents are like ‘Wow,”’ said Suarez. “They always checked the toys first and seem surprised to see the amount of gifts we’re giving them. They seem grateful. I just hope everyone has a good Christmas this year.”
Miranda Burrows, another senior at the high school, said it is an honor to be part of Peer Advocates. She said in order to be accepted students write essays, get interviewed and are selected based on their personalities.
“We do a lot of community service hours,” said Burrows. “And that’s the reason why I wanted to join – because I love giving back to my community – ever since I was younger.”
Burrows said in order to raise the money, students would have stands at places like Walmart and ShopRite to ask for donations. She said they also hold a fundraiser called Rib Rallies where they sell ribs for $10. She said Toys for Joy was not just a Peer Advocate event but a city wide effort.
“Everyone collects,” said Burrows. “Everyone tries to give back in some way.”