MASSENA — Jenna L. Stiles has a heavy course load as a full International Baccalaureate program student, but 300 senior citizens who received Valentine’s Day cards that originated from her home are glad she found the time to share the custom-made greetings.
Jenna is a junior at Massena Central High School. The International Baccalaureate, formerly known as the International Baccalaureate Organization, is a nonprofit foundation headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. The IB Baccalaureate Diploma Program is a two-year course load primarily aimed at 16-to-19-year-olds in 140 countries around the world. It provides an internationally accepted qualification for entry into higher education.
Jenna, being a “full IB diploma student,” means that she is taking six IB subjects along with completing the core requirements of the program. One of those core requirements is to complete service activities outside of the program.
Jenna is one of 22 full IB diploma students in the Massena program. There are also 129 students enrolled in one or more IB courses at the high school.
In February, one of Jenna’s teachers at Massena High School, IB program coordinator Jan Normile, sent out an email about a program hosted by the St. Lawrence County Office for the Aging and the Youth Bureau. Youth were invited to create homemade Valentine’s Day cards for senior citizens and submit them for distribution to senior citizens.
The card drive was in partnership with Office for the Aging; Andrea Montgomery, director. Her staff distributed the cards last Friday to all clients through Office for the Aging’s home delivery meal programs.
Alexa J. Backus, Youth Bureau director, said her office received over 2,000 cards. “It was amazing to see the support we received from area students, classrooms and families,” Ms. Backus said.
But she singled out Jenna’s 300-card project, which resulted in 15% of the cards created.
“Jenna’s initiative and drive was very inspiring to see,” Ms. Backus said. “It’s always impressive to see how youth want to be engaged and involved within their community.”
“At first, I wasn’t sure about doing it because my schedule was so full,” Jenna said. “But I decided that if I think I want to do this, I want to go big.”
Going big eventually led to the creation of 300 Valentine’s Day cards for senior citizens.
The project fit with Jenna’s IB’s Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) unit, one of the three essential elements students take part in as part of the IB.
Jenna had some assistance with the project from her mom, Joanne Stiles, a professor at SUNY Potsdam.
“My mother is a scrapbooker, so we had a whole lot of paper,” Jenna said.
The pair brainstormed what they wanted the cards to look like and found card templates online. But using craft supplies such as glue, stamps, paper, scissors and markers, personal touches were added to each card.
“We started cutting, folding and gluing,” Jenna said. “We wanted to make every one kind of personalized, so on the inside we wrote a nice message and stamped a heart that said, ‘With love’ so they could feel connected and that it wasn’t just a mass-made card.”
Jenna finished the project in about a week’s time, finishing it on Feb. 8.
“Once my school work was done, we would head down to the craft room and probably spend about two hours just making parts for the cards — either gluing, folding, the bases and gluing the fronts on,” Jennifer said.
This was the second card drive initiative the Youth Bureau sponsored with Office for the Aging.
“The first card drive occurred last December for the holiday season,” Ms. Backus said. “Due to the success of the holiday card drive, we decided to launch another one for Valentine’s Day.”
The card drives, she said, benefit people in many ways.
“It helps seniors to feel less isolated, strengthens our community, and allows youth to see they can make a difference, especially during COVID and amidst the winter months when many may feel winter blues,” Ms. Backus said.
“It’s a good feeling to know, especially during COVID because they don’t have a lot of time to even visit relatives because it might not be safe for them,” Jenna said. “To make them feel acknowledged and a little less lonely and a little more loved, is something that makes me feel good about.”
Jenna will be a senior next year and is undecided about her career aspirations.
“I’m struggling with what I want to settle down on because there’s just so much I want to do,” she said. “I certainly would like to go into a field where I could help the elderly.”