P.S. 41 program teaches kids all about helping out


By Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke

“Community service is central for everyone at P.S. 41,” said E.J. Baliff, a founder of P.S. 41 Cares and a mother of a fifth grader at the W. 11th St. school. “I wanted to give back to the community on a local, state and international level.”

Two years ago, Baliff and another school mother formed P.S. 41 Cares, an organization that creates opportunities for students to volunteer and become involved in community service projects.

P.S. 41 Cares is responsible for organizing about 20 events throughout the year, such as food drives, visits to area nursing homes, a jump rope-athon for the American Heart Association, a holiday mail and cell phone drive for soldiers and a gently used soccer uniform and equipment drive.

In October, fifth grade students delivered a banner of gratitude that had been decorated by the whole school, along with “yummy food,” to the Squad 18 fire stationhouse on W. 10th St. In May, fifth graders made more than 120 surgical prep dolls for Bellevue Hospital. The dolls help doctors explain treatments to children in the hospital and then become a source of comfort for them during their stay at the hospital and afterward.

The Greenwich Village School teamed up with Beacon High School this spring to hold a rally in the P.S. 41 courtyard to benefit St. Jude’s Research Hospital in combating children’s cancers. The students at P.S. 41 put on an hour-long talent show and joined Beacon in fundraising.

At the beginning of the school year, there is a meeting for the community to come and brainstorm events. Baliff then turns the list of events over to the P.T.A., which then presents the event ideas to the administration for its O.K.

“The administration is very supportive,” said Baliff. Parents expect to donate to the school, but P.S. 41 Cares aims to involve students in giving back to the community at large.

“When I was a new parent, it was a great way to meet other parents and get involved in the school,” said Gloria Zimmerman, the mother of a third grader.

Zimmerman came on board last year when she helped organize a used-books drive during the Scholastic Book Club.

“It was very personal. Children would bring in their favorite books and make the decision to pass them on,” said Zimmerman.

Baliff spends a lot of time coordinating events and there is a large crew of people who show up.

“Different events or parts of events appeal to different people,” Baliff said. “During clothing drives, there are mothers who just love folding. When we boxed up books for the book drive or rice and diapers for Haiti, a lot of fathers stepped in to load trucks and one father donated the services of the trucks from his catering company.”

Vickie Sando, the mother of twin fifth graders, became involved with the gardening program in the school’s inner courtyard and the roof garden. She developed a partnership with Organic Valley through the National Gardening Association. Local farmers come from Upstate New York to teach about farming and the importance of buying local in helping the community. 

“As a parent, I wanted a way to help,” said Sando. “P.S. 41 Cares creates ways to have a direct impact.”

“Once you get on our mailing list, you never get off,” joked Zimmerman. “There is no ‘unsubscribe’ button.” 

Local businesses help out in small but crucial ways. Both Jefferson Market and the Barnes & Noble on Eighth St. donate boxes. 

Although P.S. 41 has an involved parent body and a higher income bracket than some other public schools, Baliff says that the community service aspect is feasible in any school.

“I worked in city daycare centers, and kids who were recipients of coat drives would still bring in canned goods,” Baliff noted. “Everyone wants to feel like they can give. In P.S. 41, the community service has been translated to a much larger school.” P.S. 41 has roughly 750 students from kindergarten through fifth grade.

P.S. 41 Cares encourages kids to use their allowances and get personally involved. Students also help with publicity by making posters for events and directing people to the events.

“It really creates such an individual connection” said Baliff. “For example, during the can drive, kids would come to the donation table and say, ‘I love beans so I wanted to bring them.’” 

After an event at a nursing home, Baliff overheard one fifth-grade girl describe feeling good but not being able to identify it. 

“That is the feeling of joy you get from giving,” said Baliff.