By Ilyne Junuén Castellanos
Maintaining excitement for senior year and graduations became great challenges for high school students during the pandemic; building a sense of campus community was even harder. At North Salinas High School, however, the Junior State of America Club (JSA) became a space for students to come together and advocate for a better future.
Started in 2019, the North Salinas High School chapter of JSA is a nonpartisan space for students to learn about government, participate in community service activities and advocate for civic engagement in their community.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, JSA remained active and recently embarked on an effort to aid those in Salinas most affected by the pandemic. “Cookies for COVID Relief” is the name of JSA’s latest fundraiser, aimed at supporting “needs in health, housing, education, food security, and economic hardships,” said one of the club’s online flyers.
“The funds raised will go toward families and people who need that extra assistance to make ends meet,” said club vice-president Gurman Grewal. “There’s a lot of people out of jobs and that’s something that is creating a financial barrier … Just finding any way we can help is what we’re trying to do,”
In March 2020, the unemployment rate in Salinas rose to around 19 percent. The health and economic consequences of COVID-19 were beginning to manifest themselves in the community when JSA sprung into action.
Near the beginning of state-wide shutdowns, the JSA started raising funds and collecting donations of toilet paper and hand sanitizer to give to organizations like the Salvation Army. Almost exactly a year after its first COVID supplies drive, JSA has organized the Cookies for COVID Relief campaign. “One way we thought we could help is with cookies. Instead of just asking for something we can give something in return,” said Grewal.
Katrina Brehm is a senior at NSHS and is another member of the JSA Club. “It’s really important and close to home for me personally, which is why I was really excited to be involved in [Cookies for COVID],” she said. “I lost my grandmother due to COVID, and I feel like putting it out there how important it is and how much it’s impacted families is my main goal in our fundraiser.”
Since the transition to distance learning, Brehm and her fellow club members have been organizing the fundraiser, as well as other activities, completely online. Distance learning has been difficult academically and socially. “For all students, it’s really hard to go to school virtually,” said Marius Castro, a member of JSA, and president of North Salinas High’s Associated Student Body. “Without social interaction at school, school becomes even harder … What I’ve wanted to give to my school community is social balance.”
Having a space to discuss and learn about important issues has been one of the club’s main goals. “Our year has been very chaotic, and we’ve just been trying to use our social media platforms to educate other students about what’s going on, keep us all connected and just be there for one another,” Brehm said. In the past, JSA has worked to spread this connectivity beyond NSHS’s campus to the rest of Salinas. In Fall 2019, JSA organized a “Know Your Rights Campaign” which culminated in a town hall with the mayor of Salinas, the late Joe Gunter.
“We had the idea because we were living at a time here in our community where the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy was in full swing and a lot of the families here in Salinas were living in a lot of fear. A lot of them were not fully aware of what their rights were with regard to ICE or immigration or dealing with local police, so we created this week-long campaign to educate people on what their rights were,” said JSA President Michael Ndubisi.
Despite the virtual barrier, JSA has made an effort to recruit new club members and encourage people to participate in the fundraiser. “A lot of students and adults need some type of support. Through these different types of fundraisers what we’ve tried to reach for is trying to get support for those who don’t have it,” said Castro.
The Cookies for COVID Relief Campaign ends on Friday, May 14
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