"The process of making is a celebration of life."
- Mikhail Zakin (co-founder)
The Art School at Old Church and Our Thrift Shop Partner with Local Students
Doing Good in the Community
Demarest and Westwood, NJ – The Art School at Old Church in Demarest and its affiliate Our Thrift Shop in Westwood recently partnered with two groups of local students doing good in the community: Seniors from Northern Valley Regional High School at Demarest participating in community service, and students with Illumna, a non-profit organization led by rising college sophomores and juniors which provides mentorship to high school students.
Ariella Fleysher from Closter and Aaron Delin, Michael Rutigliano, and Robert Slowijowski from Demarest dedicated 100 hours during the month of May working at Our Thrift Shop and The Art School. All four students will be attending college in the Fall: Aaron Delin will be attending The University of Vermont, Ariella Fleysher and Robert Slowijowski will be attending Bentley University in Massachusetts, and Michael Rutigliano will be attending Loyola University in Maryland.
Northern Valley Regional High School offers an array of Senior Options for students in good standing with a high GPA to explore valuable topics, careers and experiences outside of the normal Northern Valley Program of Study in real-world settings, including a Community Service option. The students received high school credit for their work for The Art School at Old Church and Our Thrift Shop, as it was considered "a project that is designed to enhance and augment some aspect of the Northern Valley Community." Gail Rutigliano oversaw the students' work as a structured learning experience mentor for the Northern Valley Regional High School District. Ms. Rutigliano is a member of The Art School at Old Church's Board of Directors, a student at The Art School, and a year-round volunteer for Our Thrift Shop.
At The Art School, the students assisted with cleaning and organization efforts to help ready the space for the Summer Semester. They also helped the front desk staff with fielding phone calls. The students spent the majority of their hours revamping Our Thrift Shop.
Top row: (L to R) Student volunteer Michael Rutigliano shaking hands with the Our Thrift Shop outdoor display mannequin, Our Thrift Shop Manager Vivien Woodford, and student volunteer Ariella Fleysher; Bottom row: (L to R) Student volunteers Robert Slowijowski, Aaron Delin; Photo Credit: Gail Rutigliano
Our Thrift Shop is a branch of The Art School at Old Church, which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural organization. Proceeds from sales at Our Thrift Shop directly benefit The Art School. It is run entirely by a team of dedicated volunteers, with Thrift Shop Manager Vivien Woodford at the helm. The students’ work included general store cleanup, painting, inventory organization, recycling outdated electronics, and processing donations. This work was completed at an especially beneficial time. Ms. Woodford was unable to work at the shop for several months this spring as she was recovering from surgery. The students' contributions helped ease her transition back to work this summer and laid a solid foundation for an improved shopping experience going forward.
"I have nothing but praise for the students," says Ms. Woodford. "We enjoyed a bagel breakfast on the last day and one of them even gave me a hug. He didn't even know me! I am also thankful to Gail Rutigliano, an all-star volunteer, for organizing the students in my absence. We have wonderful volunteers all year round at Our Thrift Shop, and we are always looking for more. It is a lively place and a lovely warm community."
This Summer, The Art School at Old Church has been hosting student mentors and mentees from Illumna in its art studios for their evening sessions. Illumna was founded just a year ago by four student mentors who ran classes in Fort Lee. The organization recently expanded to Palisades Park and Demarest, with 21 mentors across all three branches. Illumna mentors believe that everyone has the potential to be great with the right guidance from the right people. Many of the mentors are from underprivileged backgrounds, and, as a result, the mentorship program was started in hopes of assisting underprivileged high school students who lack the appropriate support or resources.
There are 4 mentors running the Demarest branch: Sophia Baek, who is majoring in Pharmacy at Northeastern University; Tom Ha, who is majoring in Chemical Engineering at The Cooper Union; Chelsie Park, who is double majoring in Elementary Education and Applied Psychology & Human Development at Boston College; and Eddie Rogan, who is majoring in International Economics at the University of Notre Dame. The Demarest branch of Illumna currently serves nine mentees who are rising Freshmen, Sophomores, and Juniors and include students from Northern Valley Regional High School at Demarest, Cresskill High School, and Convent of the Sacred Heart.
Mentor Chelsie Park, originally from Fort Lee and whose family now resides in Closter, brought Illumna to The Art School at Old Church.
"Finding a location for our branch in Demarest was a struggle in the beginning," she explains. "We hold our classes from 7:00–10:00 PM, and many locations were not open at night or had conflicting events. If we didn’t have a location to host our program, we wouldn’t be able to run what we had been preparing for months! We really appreciate that the Art School at Old Church was happy to host our program!"
Ms. Park took art classes at The Art School at Old Church as a child, so she knew that the studios would suit Illumna's needs.
"I remember taking ceramics, cartooning, art exploration, and sculpting. I loved taking art classes at the Art School and always looked forward to going. The classes definitely helped to foster my passion for the arts. Although I am majoring in Education and am studying to become a teacher, I also want to publish my own picture book in the near future. I think the cartooning class I took at the Art School had an influence on this aspiration."
"We are so glad we could open our doors to these young men and women who are looking to make an impact in the local community," says Lisa Beth Vettoso, Executive Director at The Art School at Old Church. "At The Art School, we believe that everyone can benefit from the opportunity to experience the arts and education in a meaningful way and that the arts can help keep a community vibrant and alive. We are thrilled that these students believe this too and hope that through their time here they were inspired by the creativity in their midst."