Spotlights

Faces of the Week: Charles and Sofia Konkolics of Cockeysville Middle School

Team BCPS is made up of thousands of accomplished and interesting students, employees, and community supporters. “Face of the Week” introduces you to some of the people who make BCPS such an amazing mosaic of talent, caring, and commitment.
05/16/2018

Face of the Week

It wasn’t ripping up all those weeds and plants that Charles and Sofia Konkolics remember most about a recent weekend spent wrestling with Cockeysville Middle School’s sad little interior courtyard.

It wasn’t the elbow grease required to remove grime from the courtyard’s paving stones, or the dirty job of replanting flowers inside the courtyard’s neglected islands, or the “gutters full of goo” that Sofia mucked out as she cleaned the courtyard roofline.

As hard as the work was, the thing that stands out most to the Konkolics twins were all the faces of their classmates when they returned to school.

“That first day, that Monday morning, they were all just looking at it,” says Charles. “They had their faces pressed against the windows.

“It was a great feeling just to see how much everyone has enjoyed it.”

Adds his sister, “This was a big project for us. We wanted to make our mark in our school, leave something to remember our time there, and so we thought fixing up the courtyard would be it. But just putting up a bench wouldn’t do it; we knew that.”

Instead, the two Grade 8 students marshalled their fellow National Junior Honor Society members and spent most of the weekend scouring the neglected courtyard and putting in its place a project that had been months in the making. The crew power-washed the pavement and repainted parts of the courtyard. They put in new flower beds and erected two giant canopies over ends of the courtyard, donations from Ecological Restoration and Management, a Cockeysville-based commercial landscaping firm.

By the end of the weekend, they had reclaimed an educational oasis, a place that has enjoyed since by both students and faculty as a place to read, study, or just unwind for a moment or two. And while this scholastic sanctuary is a singular achievement for the 14-year-old Konkolics, who had planned the project since last fall, it was just the latest of many volunteer projects the pair has accomplished in the past four years. Theirs is a record of giving that has earned the twins 427 independent service learning hours and counting, and as they contemplate high school next fall, their enthusiasm shows no signs of flagging.

“School has been a big part of our lives, and so we enjoy giving back,” says Sofia.

Her brother finishes the thought. “So now that we’re going into high school, it’s what can we bring to our high school, what can we create, maybe start some new projects,” Charles says. “It will take some time to see some flaws and how we might help to fix things.”

Altruism began early  

Ever since the twins can remember, they have been learning the lessons of giving back. Their parents, Tricia and Chuck Konkolics of Hunt Valley, have always stressed the importance of volunteering and helping one’s community. They encouraged the twins to get involved.

“We were in fourth grade; that’s where it really started,” says Charles, whose early involvement in the Cub Scouts also ignited a desire to do good. The twins learned about Paul’s Place, a city organization that aided families in Southwest Baltimore. They asked to try volunteering there and began helping sort and distribute clothing and other needed jobs.

“It was a bit scary at first, but then it became easy,” Sofia says. “We got the feeling that we had helped a lot of other people out who were less fortunate. That’s a great feeling, one you really can’t go without, in our opinion.”

Adds Charles, “It was nice to see (clients) smile.”

Through their final years at Jacksonville Elementary School, the twins began to volunteer for more and more projects, usually established events or drives where they could lend their muscle and passion. A school carnival here. A holiday food drive there.  

When they moved to middle school, Charles and Sofia soon joined the National Junior Honor Society at Cockeysville and saw it as a great vehicle to increase the service footprint of students at Cockeysville. Soon came involvement with the Kennedy Krieger Festival of Trees, Operation Christmas Child, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, and more.

The twins’ emphasis, Charles says, was to continue and expand projects already linked to the NJHS as well as create new ones for students to do. The pair recognized their school’s longstanding reputation for altruism – Cockeysville Middle traditionally leads the county in the amount of canned goods donated for the annual Harvest for the Hungry food drive, for instance – and they sought to stretch students’ giving in new ways.

“I talk with our advisor a lot about where we can grow,” says Charles, who ran for and was elected president of the NJHS this year. Sofia – his “right-hand man” in planning service events and opportunities – is NJHS historian this year.

“We really couldn’t start anything on our own until last year,” Charles says. “We were too young.”

“And everything had already been started before we got there. We couldn’t start anything on our own,” Sofia adds.

Since last year, the duo has led the NJHS to a fundraising drive with Panera Bread that raised $4,000 for school projects. They’ve stuffed 400 bags of supplies and gifts for Operation Christmas Child and have supported the Festival of Trees. They’ve packed snack boxes for those staying at Ronald McDonald Houses and handed out water and towels to participants in the Komen 5K races and many other charitable race events (“So many 5K races,” Sofia says). And there have been plenty of other acts of giving, both from the Konkolics and from students in the NJHS.

Tackling the Courtyard  

Ever since coming to Cockeysville, both Konkolics had viewed the courtyard as a challenge. They’d heard about the many times the NJHS or someone else decided to clean up the overgrown, unloved space, only to see the good intentions go unrealized. “It had been here all these years,” Charles says. “This would have been the third time that (a renovation) was done.”

The twins had their challenge. With help from their parents, the pair secured a landscape architect, who came up with plans, and donations from other companies, including ER&M. Prep work commenced at “the end of winter-ish,” Charles says.

There were challenges – in order to supply the courtyard plants with water, for instance, the NJHS crew had to design and construct a hose hook-up system connecting to a sink in the school’s band room. Before the work was finished, the group had formed a committee charged with opening and closing the canopies and watering the courtyard plants.

“The transformation is amazing, and the space is now the most sought-after space in the building,” says Jennifer Stoe, S.T.A.T. Professional Development teacher at Cockeysville Middle. “Charles and Sofia make us all here incredibly proud.”

It’s never been easy, of course. Despite their service-heavy schedules, the two students still find time for club basketball (Charles) and club lacrosse (Sofia), as well as school work and occasionally relaxing. “We know school work comes first,” Charles says, followed by Sofia, who says, “Grades first.”

“But we’re 14, so we know we need a break every so often,” Charles says. “We may hang out or watch a video, but not for long. For instance, last night we wanted to go to an Orioles game, but we had to say no. Our mom taught us a lot about time management.”

Someday, the twins plan to use the skills they have learned in organization and volunteering. Befitting his interest in mathematics, Charles anticipates a career in engineering, accounting, or perhaps architecture. Sofia, who enjoys reading most in school, sees herself working in business, perhaps real estate or marketing, or maybe a legal career.

But now, the siblings are preparing new NJHS officers for next year and ensuring that many of the group’s projects will continue. Charles and Sofia plan to continue volunteering for projects both new and old – they still visit and volunteer at Paul’s Place every few months – and bring their talents to a new venue.

“If there’s anything that makes us special, it’s that we don’t want to stop with just doing the minimum,” Charles says. “It’s not just packing 200 boxes of snacks, it’s that we want to pack 400. It’s not just assembling 100 gifts for children, it’s wanting to do 200. It’s pushing ourselves to do more.”

And as they do so many times, his sister complements the thought: “I think the secret for us is that you need to want to do these things, and not just do them for the service hours,” Sofia says. “It has to come from the heart.” 

Do you know of a special person who would be a good candidate for the BCPS “Face of the Week”? Let us know! Send their name, contact information, and what makes them special to cherndon@bcps.org.  

For more photos, visit the album at the BCPS Flickr page.

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