“Why not do it?” That is the phrase repeated daily among the hallways of Voorhees High School given the opportunity to complete an extra credit assignment. That is the phrase stated by teenagers choosing to spend their weekends helping those in need rather than catching up on much needed rest. While all the credit for these activities cannot be given to a single source, Together We Are One (TWAO) is certainly responsible for many of the “why not do it” decisions seen in Hunterdon County these days.
“Why not do it?” That was the response Conor Scott gave to future TWAO cofounder Nicholas “Nick” Raefski at a Voorhees High School blood drive, when asked why he was donating blood. Conor pointed out that the simple act of giving something he could easily give to help others in need, was just a no-brainer. That conversation stayed with Nick, who was never a particularly active volunteer and hardly took time out of his busy running and school schedule to give back. Today, this could not be more different.
Some time later, and to the shock of the community, Conor took his life.
Nick wanted to do more in Conor’s memory than the school was permitting. There was never a moment of silence after his passing. There was never a school wide announcement that any change had occurred. The school merely told Conor’s close friends, including future board members Nick Agresti, Bonga Matchaba, and Will Passera, and expected these friends to spread the word throughout the school; however, without clear instructions, these friends were unsure what to do.
The student body was left to figure it all out without proper guidance or authority. While the guidance department at Voorhees offered an open door to anyone influenced by the stressful event, there was little school-wide acknowledgement that this life changing event actually happened.
The day I received the news, I remember returning to my house 15 minutes away from the school, balling the entire ride home. When I got home, I went up to my room and wanted to say a final goodbye via social network; however, it did not feel right. I did not know if this knowledge was mine to give to the rest of the world. I had “are you sitting down” kind of information that social media, such as Facebook, was too impersonal to deliver though. I was torn. The school left me feeling naked and exposed at the most miserable time of my life.
The only solace I found was with my closest friends, spending the following weeks talking about the young man we all loved. The closeness of relationships and friendships across the school was growing greater, and the student body was truly unifying. In a student run (administration objected) “red out” for Conor, approximately 80% of the school wore red apparel.
In addition, many students already in unstable situations before Conor’s passing made the decision to get help. In at least two separate cases, individuals told me that Conor inspired them speak to professionals about their problems. While the school was worried memorializing his passing would cause others to possibly try to take their own lives, the students proved to respond in the polar opposite direction. Countless teenage lives may have been saved by the support and togetherness resultant of Conor’s death. Together, we became one.
The organization— Together We Are One— gained its name from watching the school grow as a result of the events in December, 2013. Utilizing the slogan “why not do it,” TWAO has grown inside of Voorhees High School as the leading community service program, getting students active in the community around them. The concept that young people can influence the world around them is a lesson Conor taught to all the administrators of this nonprofit, and it is a lesson TWAO instills on its volunteers every weekend. We believe that changing the public image and work ethic of current high school students, a generation viewed as lazy and incompetent by some, will make a positive impact on the community as a whole.
Going that extra mile should not be impressive, it should be an expectation.
Every two weeks or so, we at TWAO will post an update of the activities our volunteers have engaged in, showing the world exactly what a group of kids can do to improve society. I hope you continue reading and enjoy the stories in upcoming articles, but for now, I leave you with a simple request. If you are given the opportunity to do something simple to make an impact, take the opportunity by the horns and do what is right.
About the Author: Will Passera, Director of Marketing and Volunteer Coordinator of Together We Are One has been a member of the Board of Directors since its founding. For the organization, Will is in charge of communicating with non-members and finding volunteer opportunities for the non-profit. Outside of T.W.A.O, Will is a three-sport varsity athlete who challenges himself in school with multiple AP and honors level classes.
Editor’s Note: I, for one, am incredibly impressed with the level of commitment among the board and membership of TWAO. I’m sure they would love to hear from you, if you feel the same way. If you have any constructive criticism or guidance, please leave a comment below. Also, they are in need of a mentor and of volunteer scheduling software. Please contact us if you are interested in connecting ([email protected])