Giving back, especially this holiday season, has always been a priority for New Jersey principal Akbar Cook of West Side High School in Newark. This is the mission behind its lights on! program, an initiative he created to help hundreds of students in need.
For a closer look at the inspirational educator in action, watch him in the first episode of our new The season of giving series of videos. In the clip, Akbar explains how he gets people to rally around underserved communities in the area by cooking for them, hosting toy drives and more. “During the holidays, it’s such a happy time for most, but the other side is sadness,” he says. “Deep in my head is a kid who doesn’t eat, so what do we do with Lights On! program is that we provide meals.
The other piece of the puzzle is spreading holiday cheer, so you better believe Akbar has decorations on the bridge. “We try to do things that try to relax us, like I give Christmas trees with the lights, the ornaments, the base,” he shares.
To support its efforts, Target donates a variety of must-have items, including coats, uniforms, calculators, and even sewing machines for the school’s home economics classes. And on the other hand, to make sure Akbar is taken care of, Target offers him a plethora of personal care products such as bear oil, face masks, body scrub. and a diffuser.
“I saw smiles, laughter and mirth,” Akbar adds. “We try to remove all the obstacles that prevent them from having the most fantastic vacations. We never think of those who don’t. This is what we are doing here and we will not stop while I am here.
Watch the full video above and stay tuned for another episode featuring another admirable Community Leader.
Produced by Lauren Ballantyne, Directed by Talibah Newman Ometu & Spencer Gillespie, Photograph by Steven Mastorelli, Edited by Travis Wood, Artistic direction by Ariel Weaver, and Design by Brandon Banks.