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Their faces said it all, according to Virginia Pancotti, Director of Senior Citizen Programs and Services at the Pleasantville Senior Center. She saw how the seniors’ faces lit up each time Zaria Cobbs, a student from BOCES’ Walkabout program, stepped into the center as a volunteer.
“Zaria just radiated when she came here,” said Pancotti. “She has such an uplifting spirit and the seniors really looked forward to her visits.”
A senior at Pleasantville High School, Zaria recently completed a month-long community service project at the center. For six hours a day, Tuesday through Friday, she helped set up lunch, assisted in the kitchen, served lunch and then cleaned up afterward, in preparation for the center’s daily Bingo game. Completion of a community service project is a key component of BOCES’ Walkabout program for high school juniors and seniors.
“Before I started, I wasn’t sure how the seniors would act or if they would be friendly to me,” said Zaria. “But once I started going and got to know them, they were really nice.” She noted that some of the seniors enjoyed chatting with her about basketball, a personal passion of hers. By month’s end, she felt she had made a world of new friends; when the Pleasantville High School basketball team held a Thanksgiving pie fundraiser, many of those new friends supported her, purchasing stacks of pies for the holiday.
“Zaria’s service project was successful for everyone involved,” said Peg Cioffi, her BOCES instructor. “She worked hard every day, and both the staff and the seniors adored her. She brought youthful energy to her assignment and enjoyed engaging with everyone at the center. She feels, rightfully so, that she made a difference.”
In addition to a four-week community service project, BOCES’ Walkabout program consists of academic classes, a 10-week career internship and two challenging, weeklong backpacking experiences. The program opens up exciting new possibilities for participants, and helps students gain confidence, motivation and direction. Walkabout has been proven effective by the New York State Education Department and has been named one of the top 40 experientially oriented programs in the United States by the National Institute of Education.