At Hillside High’s second annual mixer for seniors and students, all cry ‘Bingo!’

Photo by Elana Knopp
Bingo Blowout organizers Catherine Martins, Argi Hernandez and Fatema Sumrein stand together at the Hillside High School.

HILLSIDE, NJ — Hillside’s students and senior community joined forces for an evening of food, friendship and fun at the Bingo Blowout in the Hillside High School Cafeteria on April 28.

The event was the brainchild of English teacher Catherine Martins, who is also an adviser for Students Against Destructive Decisions, or SADD, at the school. It was planned and implemented by Martins, along with Fatema Sumrein, another English teacher and SADD co-advisor, and SADD members.

The group partnered with Mary Dawkins of the Hillside Senior Citizen Center for the event, which drew about 70 seniors. The senior center provided guests with transportation, along with folding tables and chairs for the Bingo Blowout.
Martins told LocalSource that she came up with the idea for the event last year, and many people helped bring the event to fruition.

“Holy Cross Church in Harrison was nice enough to donate a box of Bingo cards, Scott Durstewitz, a math teacher from Hillside High School, donated his Bingo cage and red balls, Ms. Sumrein and I donated dotters as well as the food and beverages, and the SADD members donated desserts,” Martins said in an April 25 email. “We asked our very own clubs, organizations and classes at Hillside High School for themed baskets as prizes.”

Baskets were donated by the Hillside Student Federation, Tyra Joyner of the Gay Straight Alliance and National Honor Society, Scott Nelson of Peer Leadership, Col. Ron Richard and Leslie Young of the Junior Reserved Officer Training Corps, Master Sgt. Louis Diaz, and Angela Lawler of the Hillside Education Association.

HHS senior and SADD President Argi Hernandez said that, while planning an event is challenging, it’s all about teamwork.

“Before the event, the SADD members, our advisers and myself would meet every Thursday after school to plan for this event,” Hernandez told LocalSource in an April 28 email. “It took a few months of preparation, a lot of phone calls and reaching out to our community and neighboring communities. We managed to pull through, though, thanks to the support we have towards each other and the support of our school and community.”

HHS Principal Christine Sidwa told LocalSource that students get a real education from events such a this one.

“Our senior citizens have so many experiences and stories that they share with our students,” Sidwa said in an April 29 email. “Seeing students asking the seniors about their families, their childhoods, their high school experiences, and their hobbies was very heartwarming and inspirational. It truly is a lesson in history outside the classroom.”

A club like SADD, said Sidwa, is a great way for the school and community to develop positive bonds and create unity.

“It also gives the students a sense of pride as well as independence,” Sidwa said. “The majority of these students are all National Honor Society members, which shows their dedication, partnership and commitment to serving the community in which they live. When given an opportunity to give back to the community, these students are proud knowing that even though they were asked to sacrifice a Friday afternoon, they are truly rewarded with a feeling of self-worth because they were able to make someone else happy and feel appreciated.”

According to Sidwa, the highlight of the event was watching students pair up with the seniors to assist in getting them food and drinks from the buffet.
“The students were very excited to see how happy the seniors were to participate in one of their favorite activities and get out for a bit, even if it was for a couple of hours,” Sidwa said.

“The ultimate reward, however, was knowing that the community of Hillside, regardless of their age, could come together and socialize as well as share experiences about where they have been and where they plan on going. Also, it was amusing to see how serious and determined the senior citizens were at winning their games of Bingo. By the end of the night, the senior citizens did a remarkable job in teaching the younger generations how to truly play the game.”

According to Hernandez, last year’s highly popular senior citizen’s prom, also hosted by SADD, brought Hillside seniors out once again for a night of fun.

“They were very happy to hear that the students in SADD wanted to invite them again to spend time with them,” she said. “I can honestly say that the SADD members, advisers and I are very happy that they are excited to be coming back to enjoy time with us while playing Bingo.”

SADD is a peer-to-peer youth education and prevention organization that has thousands of chapters in middle schools, high schools and colleges throughout the country. The club is committed to empowering young people to lead educational and prevention initiatives in their schools and communities.