Students learn value of volunteering

Published 9:17 am Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Austin Salvation Army's Major Marlys Anderson talks to Austin High School students about the history of the Salvation Army and volunteer opportunities Tuesday. - Eric Johnson/

When ninth-graders Gabe Gerstner and Ajuda Nywesh went bell-ringing at Wal-Mart for the Salvation Army of Austin, they learned a valuable lesson.

“It felt great helping people out,” Nywesh said.

The money they earned volunteering for the Salvation Army went to a good cause, and both Gerstner and Nywesh now have experiences to write about for a large-scale project put on by two teachers in the ninth-grade Language Arts department at Austin High School.

Email newsletter signup

The volunteering unit, assigned by Emily Hovland and Erin Enger, is designed to get kids volunteering and then writing a paper about their experiences. About 230 ninth-graders have or will be volunteering for two hours in some manner in the community. This could mean volunteering with a charitable organization in the community, or it could mean helping out a neighbor or their families for free.

“This gives them a few more options, they’re able to decide more when and where they want to (volunteer),” Enger said. “They’re able to go outside of the school day and do something.”

This is the first time Hovland and Enger have tried to incorporate a volunteer experience into the classroom, although the ninth graders usually have a service learning day in the spring every year. Enger and Hovland helped students set up volunteer opportunities with a few organizations, such as bell-ringing for the SA. Ninth-graders also listened to presentations by the United Way and the SA this week, and will listen to a presentation of students in volunteer groups at school on Friday.

“We just thought it’s really nice to get them to really reflect on what they’re doing with their service,” Hovland said. “We thought this would be a good chance for them to not only go out and do something but also to put it into words what that service meant, why that was a valuable experience for them.”

Briana Jensen and Nicole Anderson also went bell-ringing for the SA at Shop-Ko during Thanksgiving weekend. The ninth-graders dressed up as reindeer with red noses and sang “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” which they say earned them extra money.

“We raised a lot of money,” Jensen said.

The ninth graders must complete their community service hours by Monday, and will shortly be assigned a paper based on their experiences, which will be due by the end of the semester. The lessons behind the assignment will live on, as many students said they would continue to volunteer, especially around the holidays.

“I want to do it more,” Anderson said. “If there’s more opportunities, I’m going to do that.”