Back on Campus, the Community Action Club Celebrates a Week of Service

Usually Community Action Club Week focuses on one theme. Past years have focused on education, incarceration, homelessness, and other issues of interest to the members of the club. Last year, though the official CAC Week was canceled, the group orchestrated an all-School thank-you video for healthcare workers. Now, with students largely back on campus, the group’s co-presidents had new options for where they wanted to focus the club’s and the student body’s efforts. The choice was easy.

“The pandemic exacerbated a lot of need,” says Vera Chaudhry ’22, one of the CAC co-presidents. “Based on that, we decided to orient the week around the pandemic and the specific problems that the pandemic not only caused, but worsened.”

The club asked students to write letters to Congress to encourage members to implement the Bring America Home Act, legislation that would coordinate a national response to end homelessness. They held a toiletry drive and then packed kits for Here2Help, a Montgomery County organization that provides food and other necessities to people in need. They held the year’s first all–Upper School collective, which featured Donald Whitehead, the executive director of National Coalition for the Homeless. Whitehead’s presentation, which partially details a five-year period in his life in which he experienced homelessness, carried a special meaning for Sara Jones ’21, the other CAC co-president.

 “He actually talked to the School my freshman year, and that speech really stood out to me,” Jones says. “It’s actually one of the reasons I joined the club. A lot of times people will come to speak to the class, and some people don’t listen, or they forget after a few weeks. But his is a speech that stays with you, which is why we invited him to come back.”

“The main point he made was that people experiencing homelessness are often ignored,” says Laney Tarr ’21, the third CAC co-president. “The most important thing you can do is to say hi to someone. Yeah, you could give them money, but the main message at the end was that people experiencing homelessness are experiencing it—they’re not ‘homeless individuals.’ And by saying hi to people who are experiencing homelessness, people who are sitting on the streets, you’re humanizing them.”

Like a lot of things this year, CAC Week was different than it has been in previous years—but in a good sense. This year, the three co-presidents said, the Upper School students were more united, more driven, and more passionate about the projects.

“Sometimes we do projects where you have to learn about the topic a little bit first to understand what you’re doing. Then we set up the project, and then students do it,” Chaudhry says. “But I think this year, there was a really interpersonal level because everyone knows what people have been going through.”

“There was this feeling of ‘all hands on deck,’” Tarr agrees. “I even felt that from the administration, honestly. We thought we were going to have to just try to really push people to come to our club meeting—if you’re not in the club, people don’t want to go to a meeting.” But that wasn’t the case. Assistant Principal for Student Life Michael Woods put a stop to meeting apathy. Woods “said, ‘No, we’re having it be an all-School collection,’” Tarr says, “because he knew the importance of people hearing Mr. Whitehead’s message, especially during this time.”

The real point of CAC Week, of course, is that its effects should last longer than a week.

“It’s not like we can help everybody in one week,” Tarr says. “This is just dipping in a toe, and trying to expose the School to information about the DC community that they should know, so that they can help.”

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