Menlo School

In a typical summer, Menlo School water polo players would be training hard with SoPen Water Polo Club, headed up by Jack Bowen, Menlo School’s water polo coach and Aquatics Director, scrimmaging weekly, and often practicing several times a day with other clubs to prepare for the fall season. In addition, they’d be participating in SoPen’s community service outreach, which encourages the boys to be engaged in purposes greater than themselves and supports the program’s goal to “Be Your Best.”

For years, Menlo and SoPen players have supported LifeMoves, an organization dedicated to helping homeless families and individuals return to stable housing and long-term self-sufficiency. They’ve prepared and served meals at the LifeMoves Opportunity Services Center in Palo Alto (OSC), which provides drop-in services for single adults. The boys would often leave their morning practices to volunteer at the site and then race off together to another afternoon practice after sharing the meal that they had just prepared with clients at the center.

However, this summer, the shelter-in-place restrictions completely changed how these water polo players have been able to practice, and as LifeMoves continues to operate with limited ability to host on-site volunteers, these high school boys have had to be flexible and find new ways to engage in meaningful community service activities.

Although they are unable to serve meals directly to OSC clients, they are still serving lunches, but in SIP style by preparing and donating bagged lunches, making sandwiches and decorating the lunch bags with messages or quotes.

“Menlo School water polo and SoPen players have been dedicated volunteers for many years, helping serve delicious and nutritious meals to our unhoused neighbors,” said Philip Dah, Senior Director, LifeMoves | Opportunity Services Center. “Despite COVID-19 restrictions preventing on-site visitors, this group of generous young men quickly pivoted how best to support our clients during this uncertain and challenging time.”

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, the boys have added to their community service efforts by writing inspirational notes to healthcare workers for My New Red Shoes, a nonprofit that provides shoes and clothes for children and families in the Bay Area and which is currently an emergency responder providing relief to the broader community. “The notes were paired with donations of homemade facemasks and Crocs shoes and sent to local medical professionals, healthcare staff, and other front line heroes,” says Becca Winslow, My New Red Shoes Director of Community Engagement. “During this time of social distancing, it’s imperative that we create meaningful community connections and we’re so appreciative of the support from the SoPen water polo players.”

These high school students are facing a new and ever-changing environment right now, but opportunities like these to engage with their community and teach the boys empathy and resilience are great learning experiences. “I’ve always loved this component of our program’s focus to truly embody our goal, ‘Be Your Best’,” says Coach Jack, who is also a local author and philosophy teacher. “I was worried that this year, given the circumstances, we wouldn’t be able to do this. But due to the creativity of all those in our program, we once again had the opportunity to help those in need and connect to something larger than just ourselves and our work in the pool and classroom. I’m really proud of this team, parent group, and school and the work we continue to do to help others.”

As they continue to provide services in these difficult times, both LifeMoves and My New Red Shoes welcome donations.

Photos courtesy of Regina Skinner; Colin Skinner and Regina both contributed to the reporting/writing of this story.

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