Taking a lesson he learned from his involvement in DECA, Inc., Old Rochester Regional High School senior Edward Gonet IV has empowered his school’s new Cultural Club by establishing a non-profit corporation called Cultural Clubs of America, Inc.
“A lot of colleges already have cultural clubs, but we can learn more from each other when there’s a bigger group of students learning from each other,” said Gonet.
The concept behind his effort is the creation of a nationwide 501(c)(3) organization able to connect individual schools’ cultural clubs and thereby facilitate opportunities germane to those chapters’ mission statements. The ORR Cultural Club’s mission statement is threefold: 1. uniting students; 2. raising awareness of cultures; and 3. educating students about diverse life experiences.
“I think this ties in and enriches the initiatives that have been set forth by Superintendent (Mike) Nelson and the current administration team,” said Gonet, noting that ORR “is very supportive of the club.”
Realizing these goals, said Gonet, becomes much more likely when the structure and goals in neighboring school districts are similar. Then something like what Gonet has experienced in DECA can become reality in Cultural Club.
Formerly known as the Distributive Education Clubs of America, DECA is a thriving student organization broadening business skills via competitions that reaching across the region, state, nation, and the world. Without the same kind of structured connection to neighboring school districts’ cultural clubs, Gonet saw severe limitations.
The tipping point came in January when, as a member of ORR’s Student Council, it occurred to Gonet that the results of a Southeastern Regional Student Council project assignment expressing diversity, equity, and inclusion by way of presentations were never distributed or published.
“We were elected to these positions to make a real difference and that’s not happening,” he realized, setting the stage for a measure so drastic it is rarely if ever heard of on a high school campus.
But Gonet hasn’t let little things like figuring out how to start a corporation stop his wheels from turning.
A busy extracurricular schedule that sees him stay after school daily for in-person meetings while attending two others per week via Zoom, hold office as senior class treasurer, and serve on regional and statewide Student Council bodies did not deter him, nor did an attorney’s rate of $250 per hour to facilitate the process. Instead, Gonet reached out to a real estate attorney he knows and received resources on the law and other procedural information.
The ORR chapter is run by Diana Carreira and now has a board of directors, a treasurer, and a clerk. “Ms. (Ibby) Bobola helped us open our bank account at First Citizens, and she will be a guest speaker at the Brazilian Grill. Mr. (Michael) Nailor is the corporation’s treasurer, and he is also on the board of directors,” said Gonet.
Other ORR staff and students on the executive board of Cultural Clubs of America, Inc. include Secretary Emerson Gonet and Directors Kelly Ochoa, Isabella Hunter, and Allison Ward, plus Tabor Academy junior Aliyah Jordan, Tabor Academy Director of Equity and Inclusion Lorraine Snead, Showstopper’s Performing Arts, Inc. Director Kelly Zucco, and Berklee College of Music Professor Marcelle Gauvin.
The local group’s inaugural meeting on September 23 drew over 50 ORR students, and along with an up close and personal look at ancient Peruvian artifacts, the group got an object lesson.
Something as simple as an exercise involving the unique shape of a potato is helping students understand, after they mix them all up, that with some care and attention they can still identify a potato’s individual characteristics. How much less should people be judged because of their similarity in appearance?
On Friday, October 15, ORR’s Cultural Club will gather at the Brazilian Grill on Route 6 near the Dartmouth Mall to celebrate Hispanic and Latino Heritage Month. “We’ll have speakers to represent the two cultures. I’m here to learn, too,” said Gonet, noting the importance of learning the differences between the two cultures.
A Fairhaven resident attending ORR on school choice, Gonet is fortunate to have established connections that have led to the formulation of eight member chapters across the south coast including Fairhaven, Dartmouth, Wareham, Taunton ,and Fall River.
None of Gonet’s current Cultural Club contacts are DECA students, but other DECA students from around the state have already reached out to Gonet about having their schools’ cultural clubs join. In-state inquiries from outside the South Coast will have to wait until 2022, and assuming things go well with in-state expansion in 2022, Gonet hopes in 2023 to have the invitation out across the U.S.
“Each school’s founder handled it their own way,” said Gonet, noting that Fairhaven High School required 35 students’ signatures to join. “Hopefully, other students will be able to make connections.”
Be it the football or debate team, Gonet said, uniting member schools is a daunting challenge, but by incorporating this new venture a higher potential will be set in motion for the Cultural Club. Unlike many school districts, ORR conducts field trips, and Gonet believes that advantage will help activate the organization’s goals.
In November, ORR’s Cultural Club will hold a public fundraiser to celebrate Italian Heritage.
On Friday, December 3, the group is planning a Cultural Clubs of America Cultural Conference with the eight South Coast member groups including a guest speaker, workshops, and focus on the culture of music with a Berkley College of Music professor. The theme will be “Know Your Roots,” building out from an exploration of indigenous cultures in the Tri-Town and learning about indigenous people, including the Wampanoag tribe.
By Mick Colageo