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Marines creates ‘Backpacks for Life’ program to help homeless vets, high schoolers help with project


Backpacks for lifePacking in and delivering some love is what some caring students and staff members were all about recently.

The Banyan High School and LIFE Academy took part in an outreach initiative program in order to help homeless veterans on April 21, inside the high school’s cafeteria.

The private, non-profit, state-approved high school, located at 471 Main St., serves students with learning disabilities by concentrating on reading, language and communication, and by fostering students’ social and life skills development. The high school also aims to provide educational and vocational support necessary for students to gain independence inside and outside of the school environment. The LIFE Academy, formerly known as the 18-21 Transition Option program, aims to help Banyan High School graduates with life skills.

Students lined up tables and set up an assembly line inside the cafeteria, as they arranged and packed approximately 50 backpacks for “Backpacks for Life,” a community service project to assist homeless veterans. According toAngela Randion, Banyan School social worker, the initiative aims to provide homeless veterans with daily essentials and resources that they cannot provide for themselves.

“Banyan students began their work by learning about homelessness in our area and developing deep empathy for this situation,” she said. “They took charge of all aspects of this project – from publicity to organization and collection. They took an afternoon away from their regular studies to complete this project working side by side and assembling the backpacks with items they have collected, as well as necessary pamphlets of how to locate various area resources.”

Randion noted that flyers went home with the students and staff noting items that were needed. They gathered items from their homes and from others individuals in order to fill the backpacks. The backpacks were donated by Backpacks for Life. Members of Our Lady of the Holy Angels Church, which sits adjacent to the Banyan School, also donated items as well as students and staff from Banyan’s lower school.

“In changing the lives of area veterans, it greatly enhances each student’s life experience by teaching the joy of giving to others,” Randion added. “With each backpack, the goal is to give veterans the tools they need for a second chance at life.”

The non-profit organization was created by Sgt. Brett D’Alessandro to provide homeless veterans with the basic life essentials that they cannot provide for themselves, Randion added.

“Sgt. D’Alessandro, after returning from a seven month tour in Afghanistan with the U.S. ., began his organization by simply offering one homeless veteran his own backpack. Upon seeing the devastating need of our veterans, he has turned that one act of kindness into a very successful organization which is ‘bursting at the seams.'”

Quadreas Jones-Donald, a Banyan senior who took part in the activity, said the initiative is a good way for students to give back.

“It’s a very good cause,” he said. “Many of us in this country look past homelessness and it’s important that we can all do something to help this cause, including our vets. It also shows tremendous teamwork within our school. Everyone here felt happy and students were glad to actually do something that will make an impact. It just makes me proud to see on a smile on their faces because it shows we’re making a difference.”

After all the backpacks were assembled, they were delivered by Banyan staff to the organization. Students sprinted back and forth to collect finished backpacks to be put in vehicles on their way for the donation.

“Banyan School would like to offer Sgt. D’Alessandro many thanks for his generous spirit and participation in our project,” noted Randion. “We would like to thank Holy Angels Church for all of their support in the collection process. We would also like to extend our thanks to the entire Little Falls community and to all of our Banyan School parents for all of their support of Banyan School.”

© (c) 2016 Passaic Valley Today, North Jersey Media Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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