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Learning to make a difference: Eighth-graders participate in Day of Caring

Discovery Middle School eighth graders Lilly Thul and Peter Sansted pull weeds in a flower bed at the Runestone Museum for Day of Caring Thursday. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press) 1 / 4
Discovery Middle School eighth graders James Schwartz, Noah Wilson and Will Suchy (front to back) paint over graffiti on the Central Lakes Trail tunnel under highway 29 Thursday for Day of Caring. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press) 2 / 4
Reece Golke’s design was chosen for this year’s Day of Caring T-shirts. (Contributed) 3 / 4
Students gather at Fillmore Park in Alexandria to eat pizza and visit after completing 31 residential and community projects for Day of Caring. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press) 4 / 4

Almost all students enjoy the chance to take a break from classes. But eighth grade students at Discovery Middle School in Alexandria had a chance to not only get out of class last Thursday morning, but to make a difference in the community and maybe even learn something in the process.

According to Jen Jabas, United Way executive director, about 350 students - the entire eighth grade class - and more than 50 teachers and other school staff, participated in Day of Caring, which promotes volunteering and meeting needs in the community. Students worked in groups of about ten with a teacher or other adult volunteer.

Students did yard work at the Douglas County Historical Society, cleaned and did yard work at the Runestone Museum, painted and cleaned up at Fillmore Park, cleaned up Big Ole Park and City Park, painted over graffiti in the tunnel for the Central Lakes Trail under Highway 29, and cleaned the gymnastics center at Lakes Area Recreation. Several residential projects were also included, totaling 31 residential and community projects completed.

After working all morning, students gathered at Fillmore Park in Alexandria for a pizza lunch before going back to class.

While serving pizza, Jabas explained that the goal of the event is to get the students involved in making a difference in the community while at the same time helping people who are unable to do the work on their own.

"It instills service learning with our youngest leaders," she said. "The teachers and kids and making a difference."

Sarah Reif, sixth grade dean of students at Discovery Middle School, who helped coordinate the event, said that many students start off the day just wanting to get out of class for a while. However, along the way, they tend to discover that it feels good to not only get a job done but to also help people who are unable to do the work themselves. Residents tell students how much they appreciate their work, which makes the experience meaningful for them, Reif said.

"They love it," she added. "It's a great experience."

Reif explained that the ultimate goal of the program is to add more homes.

"This year we've had more residential locations," She said. "That's always our hope."

To accomplish that goal, organizers spread the word though public service organizations, churches and at events such as the food drop. If they don't get enough residential jobs, they may then reach out to more public organizations.

This year, while working, volunteers wore green T-shirts with the Day of Caring logo. Each year, eighth grade students submit entries for a T-shirt design and this year's winner was Reece Golke.

Gabe Schneider, one of the student volunteers, said it was good to be out with his friends doing some work.

"It feels nice doing something for the community," he added. "I'm glad I can be out here helping."

The annual event is coordinated by the United Way of Douglas and Pope Counties. Several sponsors also help pay for supplies, busing, food and other expenses. This is the fourth year the event has taken place.