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The Cool Club

by Erica Bauwens
When the bell sounds for the end of the school day at Lenape High School, you won’t find 17-year-old Taylor Kane on the bus home or hanging out with friends in the hallway. Instead, she joins more than 100 Lenape students hard at work at Lenape’s Hero Club, a specialty nonprofit organization created by Kane in her freshman year.

The club is one of dozens across South Jersey public and private schools that have been founded by students looking for more in their extracurricular activities.

“They’re so specific now, and you don’t have to go out of school to go and look for opportunities on your own,” says Kane. “I feel like joining clubs like this is becoming more and more popular every year. There’s really something for everyone.”

That sentiment is echoed across the area, as students are banding together to create clubs that feed their interests and hobbies.

Be it a niche hobby club, a service organization or a peer-to-peer connection group, teachers agree that clubs in South Jersey schools are providing students with a path toward the future.

“Students use clubs as a means to expand their horizons for college,” says Mark Hendricks, advisor for the Hero Club. “The amount of opportunities that kids have after school is so fascinating. Whether it’s robotics, community service clubs, tech clubs, they are gaining experience we could never have envisioned in the past.”

We took a look at 10 South Jersey high school clubs that are breaking tradition, raising funds and creating a safe and inviting space for our high school students to grow into young adults.

Habitat for Humanity
Moorestown High School
Started in 2014, Moorestown High School’s chapter has gone on to work closely with the organization to help families all over the area. Students volunteer at the Maple Shade-based Habitat for Humanity ReStore, which sells new and gently used building materials and furniture, and also work on annual fundraisers to gather building supplies like paint, tarps and paint brushes.

Threads Club
Washington Township High School
Threads dives into the world of fashion design, giving students the opportunity to craft their own outfits. At the end of each year, students put on a full-fledged fashion show, complete with models from the school and a collection display for guests to browse and look over. The show also raises money for a senior scholarship.

Hero Club
Lenape High School
Kane’s Hero Club works with Wish Upon a Hero, a South Jersey start-up and nonprofit that reaches out to those in need through social media and the internet.

“A majority of our Hero Club members are doing it because it’s a way to be involved in community service, and because they know how to spread the message,” explains Hendricks. “The kids are very familiar with social media and spreading their message through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.”

Students collect gift bags to donate to local hospitals, write cards and well wishes and provide necessities to South Jersey residents in need through social media fundraising and in-school campaigns.

“We run it like a business; we give a lot of business students the opportunity to be involved in all different things. We have a director of public relations, marketing, social media. We’re giving students business functions in the club, which could help them as they move on to careers,” says Hendricks.

“It’s a club of the future,” says Kane. “You can follow your passions and learn, and use social media for positive ways instead of mindlessly posting or tweeting about nothing.”

Buddies club
Shawnee High School
Jenna Stevens, a multi-disabled teacher at Shawnee, helped found Buddies Club as a way to connect the self-contained population of special needs students with their general education peers.

“We realized it would be nice to get the self-contained students to socialize with the other students,” she explains. “It’s a great way to socialize outside of their program.”

At each monthly meeting, students get together with an ice breaker before having free time to socialize and share a snack. The club has turned into what Stevens calls a “mutually beneficial club,” where all students can come together to learn from each other.

It has also opened up opportunities for students hoping to become teachers, as she has seen members of the Buddies Club go on to major in special education out of high school.

“My students are helping the other general ed students break out of their shells and be a little less timid,” says Stevens. “My students might be the one this was designed to benefit, but they are reaching the other students in ways they didn’t know they might do.”

Martin Luther King Jr. Club
Moorestown Friends School
Students from this service-based club work alongside the school’s diversity committee—which is part of the student government—to plan events and spread their message.

“It’s a club with a mission,” says Mike Brunswick, Moorestown Friends School Dean of Students. “They plan events, but overall they make diversity awareness more of a discussion at the school.”

Their biggest event of the year is the Soul Food Fest, an annual all-you-can-eat party where students prepare soul food-style dishes. “It’s the greatest day,” laughs Brunswick. “You try different types of comfort food from around the world. They make a lot of money and donate all of the proceeds to various organizations.”

Brunswick says that the club is just one of a handful of new campus clubs. “You’re in the minority if you’re not participating in a club,” he says. “We have 41 different clubs and we’re growing. Some have 30 members and some have seven, but just because it’s a small club doesn’t make it less powerful and important. That’s a group that is connecting with someone who shares their interest.”

NFDL (New Jersey Drama and Forensics League)
Eastern High School
NJDFL brings students together in 12 categories—including comedy pairs, impromptu speaking and drama monologues—to battle against schools in a more private and on-the-spot form of competition.

“Competitions have two rounds—for each you go to a classroom to present, as opposed to being in front of an auditorium [and] a ton of people,” explains Elizabeth O’Keefe, NJDFL president and co-advisor. “You’re in a classroom with five competitors and a judge. The judge ranks those two rounds and we use those ranks to determine those finals.”

Eastern has won two state championships since its inception into the league in 2000. The club is a place for the artistically inclined to combine with students looking to boost their public speaking skills.

“The outgoing kids who—in another generation—might have been known as the class clowns, they’re perfect for this. They’re more outgoing and interested in improving,” explains O’Keefe. “At the end of competition they get a critique sheet. They see what they did well, what they need to work on, and they blossom as students and as performers.”

SMAC (Students Movement Against Cancer)
Cherokee High School
Currently the largest service club at Cherokee, SMAC brings students together in a safe space to spread awareness and bond.

“Cancer brings us all together. We ask students to stand and raise their hand at the first meeting if they have been personally impacted by cancer, and almost everyone stands,” says Erica Witzig, SMAC volunteer advisor and a 15-year survivor of thyroid cancer. “The common thread is this disease, but through that we find the ability to bond and fundraise and promote awareness.”

SMAC meets monthly to plan service projects throughout South Jersey, working closely with The Committee to Benefit the Children at Saint Christopher’s Hospital while fundraising once a month through events like St. Baldrick’s Day, and the annual Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk sponsored by the American Cancer Society. The club has raised over $100,000 for the American Cancer Society since its inception, raising $4,000 at the walk this year.

“Seeing the student’s commitment to service is what brings me the most pride and joy,” says Witzig.

Aerospace Club
The Aerospace Club is an engineering club formed by senior Austin Olson last year. “Me and a couple of friends were in the science lab and we started talking about building rockets, which led to the idea of starting an Aerospace Club for Paul VI,” says Olson. “We began looking at different student aerospace clubs across the country and decided to model it after the University of Michigan's aerospace engineering program, which is one of the top programs in the country.”

The club meets each week to design, learn about and build rockets, working with club advisor and science teacher Robert Walton. Olson—who hopes to pursue a science-based career in the future—says the club plans to organize rocket building competitions and also coordinate field trips to the Franklin Institute.

“Clubs like the Aerospace Club are great for kids that are looking for something different or who are interested in science and they are a really great opportunity to make new friends,” says Olson. “I would love to see the Paul VI Aerospace Club continue to be a place where students that are interested in science come together.”

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 12, Issue 12 (March, 2016).
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