Alexandra Franzino, a junior at Hopewell Valley Central High School (CHS), has been volunteering in her community since middle school. Over the last few years, she has been a driving force behind the Hopewell YMCA’s Safety Town program, an annual event for Kindergarten students to learn bike, road, pedestrian and bus safety.
It was because of her passion for volunteering and her progressive efforts in the Pennington-Hopewell area that she was recently awarded a Youth Volunteer Award at the 2018 New Jersey YMCA State Alliance Annual Recognition Celebration, held in New Brunswick.
“The awards ceremony recognized those individuals and youth that embodied the mission of the YMCA and whose work strengthened local communities and supported the YMCAs in promoting youth development, healthy living, and social responsibility,” according to the New Jersey YMCA website.
Franzino said she was nominated for the award, which was given to 25 youth, by Hopewell YMCA Senior Program Director Dan Williams.
“I was kind of surprised, I didn’t expect it,” Franzino said. “[Volunteering] has been a part of my life for a while.”
Franzino has been a member of the YMCA Teen Leaders program for the past two years, and currently works as an aftercare counselor, as well as a camp counselor in the summer. In her community, she had volunteered for the Pennington 5K run, and also helps organize the annual holiday walk at the YMCA.
She is also one of the founding members of the Students for Change Club at CHS, which aims to combat gun violence and raise awareness to other political issues.
The club was inspired after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 students and staff members, and injured 17 others.
“I realized students at my school wanted to get involved but they didn’t have an outlet to get involved,” she said. “I started it with a friend of mine and we wanted to be that outlet for students to come and participate in political activities, specifically the gun violence movement, but we are always open to other activities and issues that are going on in our country right now.”
Outside of Hopewell, Franzino is a student leader for March for Our Lives Philadelphia, a group also organized after the Parkland, FL, shooting that holds marches and other events across the country.
“I do a lot of the organizing and manage some social media accounts too,” she said. “I can connect with kids from different environments than me, so they can share their experiences from where they live… it’s helping me to learn that there’s more than just Hopewell; every community is different.”
Franzino said that volunteering is something that has helped her to keep an “open mind.”
“For March for Our Lives, I went in with one particular set of ideas and now I’m open to talking with other people and hearing their opinions, and really working together instead of just trying to prove my point,” she said. “Volunteering is a team effort and it’s helping me to work as a team player.”
Franzino said that everything she does with her group at the Hopewell YMCA is a team effort. Because of this, she likes to think she was representing her group and the Hopewell YMCA as a whole when she received the Youth Volunteer Award.
“To me, we’re all being recognized for what we do, [we’re] showing what we’re doing has a purpose; it has an impact on other people and other people see what we’re doing.”