By Mary Cooley, BND

High school teachers and counselors often don’t have to look far to find a need in the community. At Belleville East, they only need to look in their own hallways.

“The best thing about this program is it’s Belleville East families helping Belleville East families,” said principal and former teacher Jason Karstens. “Between teachers and administrators and students, we’re all one big community, so we’re helping each other out.”

The school started its Make a Change program in 2005, with the efforts of three retired teachers, said school counselor Michelle Seneczyn. “We want to give you $500,” they told her, and that money went to a girl and a boy whose families were going through some kind of hardship.

The program has grown since then, and is expected to raise about $11,000 this year, Seneczyn said. Most of that, likely between $8,000 and $9,000, will go to a shopping trip for 30 students and gift cards for another 30 students.

BEast-Octagon230 Students who will go on a $250 shopping trip to Kohl’s

30 Students who will receive $250 gift cards to Walmart

About five Belleville East families also are “adopted” and provided wish lists that teachers, student groups and others will do their best to fulfill.

One of those families was adopted by the school’s Octagon Club, a community service club that meets before school. Club members recently brought in gifts for their family to wrap and the gifts will be delivered the last week of school before Christmas break. The family gave the club a wish list, which students tried to fulfill.

“Some families, I had to beg. ‘Listen, we’re going to do it … I’d rather get stuff you like,’” Seneczyn said, but other families readily welcomed any assistance.

Students and families who might be helped are identified by teachers and counselors.

“In today’s times, it’s hard to know who’s having financial trouble,” Karstens said. “A lot of times, it’s building relationships with students and you start learning more about the family life … we can provide that support.”


Jason Karstens, principal and former teacher

The Octagon Club also made knotted fleece blankets for children at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis. Also, some of the blankets will be given to other East students.

The school has a contest between all the second-hour classes, with the class raising the most getting a pizza party.

Teachers and school counselors identified almost 70 students who could use some kind of help. A committee will decide which 30 students will receive the shopping trip to Kohl’s, with a limo ride and pizza lunch. Another 30 will receive $250 gift cards to Walmart; others will get gift baskets from area businesses.

What’s left after all that shopping and wrapping will be spent throughout the school year on whatever a student and his or her family might need: school-appropriate clothing, cleaning supplies, food.



Program at Belleville East High School helps provide students in need and their families with items during the holiday season and throughout the school year.

How to help

Families of students need a variety of clothing, household items and food. Donations of clothing, particularly school-approved khaki pants and Belleville East apparel, are kept at the school to be passed along as needed. The school counseling office also keeps household cleaning products and gift cards available for students throughout the year.

Contact information

Call school counselor Michelle Seneczyn at 618-222-3741 or send donations to Belleville East High School, Attention Make a Change, 2555 West Blvd., Belleville, 62221. Seneczyn can provide receipts upon request.