Growing Up Kind At A Wider Circle


By Maggie Fox

Jj Cuneo knows A Wider Circle inside out.

They should. The high school senior has been volunteering at A Wider Circle since they were in the 6th grade.

On a cold January morning, Jj is re-arranging toys and games in A Wider Circle’s warehouse. “To me, this is very, very messy,” Jj says. Dressed in a parka zipped up against the chilly air that blows in through the open doors of the warehouse, Jj sorts through the loaded shelves.

“I went through some of the donations but now I am focused on getting rid of stuff because there is so much stuff down here,” Jj says. Then the goal is to organize things so that volunteers who stock the showroom can find the best toys easily. “There’s so much and if you put too much upstairs, I think the kids who come in get overwhelmed,” Jj says.

Jj first discovered A Wider Circle as part of a summer camp arranged by Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart. Their first assignment was to help sort through donated shoes.

In the years since then, Jj has worked all over the sprawling warehouse and showrooms, recently helping their mom organize the current toy and game showroom. “I also train new volunteers when they come in, especially in this section,” Jj says.

Volunteering at A Wider Circle can earn students needed community service points, but that’s not why Jj has been doing it. “I have over 200, maybe up to 300 hours just from 10th grade to now,” Jj says. It’s the variety and the chance to help that they enjoy. “There’s always something different you can do.”

And A Wider Circle isn’t the only place Jj has volunteered. They’ve also done projects for So Others Might Eat, for instance.

When not volunteering, Jj likes to cook, especially spicy food. “I really like stuff with ghost peppers,” says Jj. Matzo ball soup is another favorite. “I usually add more spices than are in the recipe,” they note.

And for fun, Jj likes board games. “I am a very avid board game player,” says Jj.

Jj, who attends Sandy Spring Friends School, is scheduled to graduate in the spring. Their twin sister attends Walter Johnson High School but Jj prefers the smaller Sandy Spring. “Also, there’s a really nice community there. No bullying,” they note.

Jj has been busy applying to colleges and has already been accepted at a few. “It’s a lot of work to apply to colleges,” says Jj, who favors small, liberal arts colleges with good STEM options. They are considering a public health major, with a heavy emphasis on Spanish. Jj hopes to spend some time studying abroad, preferably in a Spanish-speaking country.

Public health appeals in part because Jj’s father is a pulmonologist – a physician specializing in lung health. Jj has done an internship at the nearby Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. “It was incredibly awesome,” Jj says.

Life is all about the people you meet, Jj notes. “I’m starting to see how much connections really play a role in your future,” they say. It’s important to be kind, they believe. “A lot of successful people aren’t kind, but a lot of kindness does lead to success,” Jj adds.

“The kinder you are, the more successful you are going to be.”

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