Amy Snow, Community Service Coordinator, describes the importance of serving your community and the many ways to do so.
As you read through the history of Saint Mary’s School, St. Mary’s-in-the-Mountains and The White Mountain School, service to community is a common theme and our community service program continues to thrive today. Already this year, our students have volunteered about 500 hours of time to a number of local organizations. Raking leaves, painting houses, helping to organize a can drive, cooking and serving meals and visiting with residents at a nursing home are just a few examples of the myriad ways they have contributed to our local community. About half the student body has participated in at least one community service project since September and by May, everyone will have had a chance after we hold our annual Community Service Day. On this day alone, we will volunteer about 600 hours of valuable work to help out our neighbors.
Throughout the school year, there are many opportunities for students to volunteer their time and talents. They can choose events that stand on their own such as planning a canned food drive at Thanksgiving or cooking and serving a Dinner Bell meal at All Saints’ Church in Littleton. In mid-December, I took 14 students to volunteer at The Polar Express, an event which is held annually in Lincoln, NH and North Conway, NH to celebrate the popular children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg. The mission was to dress and act like an elf and to make the children believe they had arrived at The North Pole after a short train ride. All 14 students embraced the challenge and put smiles on the faces on many children that evening. I am not sure who had more fun, the children or the WMS students!
There are also a number of ways for students to engage in longer-term community service projects. A number of our field courses provide students the chance to work on week-long projects locally, nationally and internationally. This past fall, one field course group spent the week in Portland, Maine. They worked with Habitat for Humanity, helping to build energy efficient homes for low-income families, and also spent time volunteering at The Preble Street Resource Center. This center has many programs intended to fight homelessness, hunger and poverty in Portland and the surrounding area. We recently had a spring field course group travel to Managua, Nicaragua. Eight students and faculty members Matthew Toms and Brent Detamore spent time working with Women in Action, a group which creates programs to improve the health, education and economic status of the people in an impoverished area of Managua. They aided them in the completion of various work projects aimed at improving the living conditions in this particular neighborhood. A number of WMS groups have traveled to Nicaragua over the past few years to work with the Women in Action group. A special relationship has developed and this time, as always, the experience was very meaningful for both groups.
This year, five students chose to do community service as part or all of their winter sports commitment. A number of students volunteered for The Polar Pals literacy program at the Littleton Library. Each afternoon they were matched up with an elementary age student and served as a reading mentor, listening to the child read and helping when they had trouble.
Librarian Steffaney Smith, who oversees the program, recently wrote, “I was very pleased with the caliber of mentoring your students exhibited throughout their volunteer hours. They had great rapport with the young readers and I could tell they enjoyed their work by their enthusiasm and smiles.” Other options included helping at a local daycare center and preschool and spending time with the residents at a nursing home in the area.
I’ve always believed that performing community service is the ultimate “win-win” situation and it’s wonderful to watch our students discover this. Admittedly, they sometimes sign up to bolster their college application or because they feel like they “should”. They soon learn, though, that the rewards are tremendous and that the feeling you get when you lend a hand to someone in need is hard to match. Junya Wei ’12 is one of the students who chose to do community service as part of her winter sports commitment. She spent time at a local nursing home and quickly realized the value of the experience. She reflected, “I feel like I can give my love and care to people who indeed need them. I feel really needed when I go visit them and I have even become friends with some of them. They all seem happy and appreciate that which makes me feel really good. When you are sincere and patient with other people, it is not a one-way payment; you can get the same feeling back or even more.”
When I visited the nursing home one day to take some pictures of the students at work, I happened to run into the daughter of one of the residents with whom the students spent time. She was so thankful for the extra time and attention given to her mom and was very impressed with the maturity and thoughtfulness of the WMS students. It was a nice reminder that time is a precious gift and it’s wonderful to observe our students as they so generously bestow this gift on others.