Giving back, especially during this festive season, has always been the priority for New Jersey principal Akbar Cook of Newark’s West Side High School. It’s the mission behind his Lights On! program, an initiative he created to provide help for hundreds of students in need. 

For a closer look at the inspiring educator in action, catch him in the first episode of our new The Giving Season video series. In the clip, Akbar opens up about how he gets people to rally for the underserved communities in the area by cooking for them, organizing toy drives, and much more. “During the holidays, it’s such a happy time for most, but the other side of that is sadness,” he says. “In the back of my mind, there’s a kid who’s not eating so what we do with the Lights On! program is we provide meals.” 

Target The Lights On Program

The other piece of the puzzle is spreading some holiday cheer, so you better believe that Akbar has decorations on deck. “We try to do things that try to take the edge off like I give out Christmas trees with the lights, ornaments, the base,” he shares. 

Target Principal Akbar Cook

To support his efforts, Target donates a variety of much-needed items including coats, uniforms, calculators, and even sewing machines for the school’s home economics classes. And on the flip side, to ensure Akbar is taken care of, Target goes on to gift him a slew of self care products such as bears oil, face masks, body scrub, and a diffuser. Principal Akbar Cook The Giving Season

“I live off the smiles, laughter, and the cheerfulness,” Akbar adds. “We try to remove every barrier that’s preventing them from having the most awesome holidays. We’re never not thinking about the ones that don’t have. That’s what we do here and we won’t stop as long as I’m here.” 

Watch the full video above and stay tuned for one more episode featuring another admirable community leader.

Produced by Lauren Ballantyne, Directed by Talibah Newman Ometu & Spencer Gillespie, Cinematography by Steven Mastorelli, Edited by Travis Wood, Art Direction by Ariel Weaver, and Design by Brandon Banks.