Labor of love

Labor of love

Smithfield High School National Honor Society students sit down with representatives from the American Heart Association to plan the Sentinel Legacy Gala at the high school on Saturday, Feb. 29, from 4 to 6 p.m. Clockwise from bottom left: Serena Roy, Caitlin Bessette, Emma Byrnes, Ben Iannuzzi Samantha Nicynski, Donovan Evans and Austin Praria of the AHA, Jessica Nicholson, and David Tikoian. (Breeze photo by Jacquelyn Moorehead)

SMITHFIELD – With hearts associated with love, it is fitting that the upcoming Smithfield Sentinel Legacy Gala on Saturday, Feb. 29, benefiting the American Heart Association, is a symbol of love for one Smithfield National Honor Society student.

Jessica Nicholson, a senior at Smithfield High School, found inspiration for the gala from her mother, Doreen Nicholson, who died suddenly in August 2018 from a heart complication.

While National Honor Society members began brainstorming a spring service project, Nicholson thought of ways to honor her mother and bring awareness to heart disease. The timing seemed right, with February as American Heart Month, and she pitched the ideas to fellow NHS members.

“It’s really exciting. I get to do this for her. It’s the first time in my life I can make a big impact like this,” Nicholson said.

She said her mother was well known in Smithfield for her service work and was a pillar in the community. Doreen, a mother of four, was involved in the PTA, coached sports, volunteered, and organized events in town.

For Nicholson, organizing the gala is a way to honor her mother through community service, fundraising, and raising awareness of heart disease.

“I’m doing it for her,” she said. “I know she’d be proud.”

For months, the NHS students have worked to make the gala happen. Rolling off the back of a successful winter warm drive, the students hope to keep the momentum and conversation going to reach the goal of $2,500 raised for the AHA.

With donations already reaching $1,500, Nicholson said she hopes that goal can be surpassed multiple times over and reach $10,000.

Last week, the NHS held a “red out” where students wore red and learned CPR to the rhythm of songs with 100 beats per minute. NHS adviser Vin Zibelli said “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees is an example of a song to think of when performing CPR.

Zibelli said the students’ work over the past few months to prepare for the gala has been phenomenal and incredible.

He said NHS students also organized a red-out at a basketball game last week.

“They’re underselling the work they’ve done. It’s incredible what they’ve accomplished and continue to do. This night is going to be great,” Zibelli said.

Meeting almost daily to plan the gala, NHS students are collaborating with AHA representatives to make the most of the two-hour event.

AHA representative David Tikoian, town resident and former North Providence police chief, said the gala will be an impressive night featuring all four pillars of the NHS mission: service, scholarship, character, and leadership.

“At the end of the day, we want people to reach into their pocket and donate,” Tikoian said.

On Feb. 29, from 4 to 6 p.m., a portion of Smithfield High School will open for a red carpet event featuring food from local restaurants, entertainment from high school staff and chorus members, CPR instructions, heart-healthy recipes and exercise demonstrations from Smithfield Fitness and One Cycle RI, raffles for items and gift cards to local businesses, and more.

While formal attire is optional, the NHS is encouraging those who attend to wear pink or red.

Nicholson and others affected by heart disease and strokes will create a video presentation for attendees to view during a short speaking program.

“We want there to be facts so people can get more out of the night than just food,” Nicholson said.

With more than 20 businesses participating, the food will include dessert stations, appetizers, dinner and beverages from favorites such as Jaswell’s, Greenville Inn, Sienna, Condesa Restaurante, Wright’s Farm and more.

Students plan on offering childcare for the event, with crafts and entertainment for children.

The event is free with donations encouraged.

For more information or to donate, visit, or contact Zibelli at