Community-minded SJV cheer team a class act in service

St. John Vianney High School’s cheerleaders have a long history of community service, which was on display Aug. 24 at a charity event in Freehold Borough. Courtesy photo

FROM THE MONITOR

By EmmaLee Italia, Contributing Editor

When Staci Shalkowski’s mother, Jayne, passed away suddenly in May, Shalkowski decided to continue the legacy as St. John Vianney High School’s head cheerleading coach – a role her mother held for 40 years.

“I was privileged to have her as my coach, and then to work under her as her assistant coach for 10 years,” Staci Shalkowski said. “It’s a brand new outlook on cheer, being head coach; I’m happy to get to lead [the team] in that role.”

Cheerleading is not the only legacy Shalkowski is continuing, however. Her mother’s passion for community outreach lives on in the team, as witnessed Aug. 24 when the Holmdel school’s cheerleaders performed at a charity event in Freehold Borough.

Their routine added to the festivities of the Tools for School Block Party, planned by Anderson’s MTN Organization Inc. – “Meet the Need” – that helped provide backpacks for needy children of the area. MTN is a New Jersey-based nonprofit dedicated to serving families and individuals in need.

“It’s something my mom instilled in them [the team members] – academics and athletics are a big part of SJV, but so is volunteering,” Shalkowski said.

Yvette and Reginald Anderson, husband and wife team and MTN co-founders, run several fundraisers and programs year-round. Yvette Anderson, who graduated from SJVHS and who has ties to several of the school’s cheerleading parents, regularly approaches the team for volunteers.

“This year we decided to kick it up a notch for the kids by having a block party,” she explained. The day included carnival activities like pony rides, bouncy houses, face painting and food – and front and center, the entertainment.

“The kids and parents all loved it. When the girls came on, we all stopped in amazement,” Anderson said. “They really stole the show.”

Jayne Shalkowski’s spirit of service continues as the cheerleaders have recommitted themselves, taking on the mantra “keep the legacy alive” as their inspiration for the coming season – not only in cheering, but also in their community outreach.

“The girls truly follow the school’s motto of knowledge, commitment and involvement,” Shalkowski said. “I never have to ask or demand that these girls put in extra time.”

Throughout the year, the team participates in Catholic Athletes for Christ, visits the NJ Veteran’s Memorial Home, collects donations for breast cancer research and assists MTN and others. Shalkowski calls them a compassionate, loving group who want to spend time volunteering.

“They make me want to be a better person,” she said. “If I offer a volunteer opportunity to 55 girls, all 55 want to do it. You want to do more, watching them.”

Anderson said the cheerleaders stayed the duration of the day, interacting with children and helping where needed.

“The kids we are serving are economically disadvantaged … they don’t generally go to theme parks or on vacation,” she said. “Now they have something to share about when they go back to school; they got to see the cheerleaders and be encouraged.”

For the upcoming season, Shalkowski hopes to continue building the cheerleading program and competing at state and nationals again.

“To step into [my mom’s] position, it’s a sense of pride,” she reflected. “She built this program, and more than cheerleading, she built [an appreciation for] academics and service. You get the whole package.”

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