SHERIDAN — Sheridan County is well known to have a community-minded spirit as nonprofit organizations, fundraisers and opportunities to support each other abound.
Whether time is spent founding a new NPO, sitting on the Board of Directors of an existing nonprofit or simply volunteering an hour or a dollar, adults in the community often give what they can to support the charitable under layer that uplifts Sheridan.
But as the older generations of our community retire and pass the baton of service down to younger generations, who will be there to pick it up?
On Friday, the teachers and administration of Big Horn Middle School hosted their second school-wide Community Service Day, an effort to provide students with the opportunity to give back to the community, make a meaningful connection with the people they serve and learn the joy of being a public servant.
Over the past couple months, a public call was made for elderly, handicapped or anyone else who wanted to make connections with the youth in their community to submit projects for the students to complete free of charge.
The types of projects the kids completed included painting, hauling wood, cleaning, yard work, trash removal, fence mending, repairing damages from recent storms and gardening.
Eighteen families and individuals came forward seeking help, and on Friday the students of the seventh- and eighth-grade classes of BHMS set out in seven small groups for a day of hard work — and a little fun.
For many years now the middle school has participated in a school-wide service day that historically consisted of trail cleanup, highway cleanup, river projects and other such deeds serving the community as a whole.
In this the second year of serving individuals in their homes, teachers and students alike agreed that they most enjoyed the personal connections made with people in their community whom they might not otherwise have been given the chance to meet.
“The students enjoyed meeting the people they were working with, building some relationships with people who are around us all the time that they might not know otherwise,” Project Organizer and BHMS teacher Tina Melon said. “The patrons enjoyed meeting the students too and seeing that they were good-hearted and fun to be around. A lot of times if you don’t know kids you only notice them when they do something wrong and they seem like punks, but once you get to know them you see a different side.”
Melon said in the first year she organized the community service day to be in people’s homes, she went door-to-door offering her services. This year she took to advertising in The Press and posting fliers at the post office to find patrons in need and found it to be much more effective.
“Sometimes people are tentative or unsure with strangers, and this way they got information ahead of time and felt more comfortable with who we were and what we were doing,” she said.
Barbara DeFries was one of the people who saw the flier at the post office and called for help.
“I recently had issues with my back and a foot, so things got behind on me, and when I saw that flier I thought, well gosh that would be great for these kids to help me,” she said. “I had them prune back lilac bushes, rake up bark chips and moved them to plant seed. They also moved a lot of rocks, and they were a huge help to me.”
DeFries said the students seemed to enjoy their time working at her house, giving each other rides in the wheel barrel and even burying one student in the bark pile.
“They had a blast, and I had fun watching them,” she said. “They worked up a sweat and had fun doing it. They were polite, nice, no one got hurt and they didn’t wreck any tools. It was a really great experience.”
Eighth-grader Kathryn Arneson was one of the students who worked at Barbara DeFries’ home, and she agreed the day was hard but fun.
“I was glad I was able to help the community and people who aren’t necessarily able to do it themselves,” Arneson said. “It’s also fun to spend time with people you aren’t normally able to hang out with, like people in other grades and the town.”
Melon said the school plans to continue the program in years to come and hopes to serve more people next time.
“Depending on the number of projects we have, we’d like to incorporate the sixth-graders but we didn’t have that many this year,” she said. “A lot of people are unsure if the project they have is right for middle schoolers, but most of the time it is, and if it’s not I’ll let them know so it doesn’t hurt to ask.”
Though the community service day is not an optional activity for the students, Melon said that oftentimes it is the motivation to start, but the kids continue on their own.
“Its important for all kids to learn about community service to start off because they probably wouldn’t do it if they had an option, but then after they have done it they are interested,” she said. “They liked feeling like they accomplished something, seeing what they achieved; the feeling at the end of the day was much different than the beginning.”
Arneson will head to high school next year where the service is not mandatory, and she said she will continue to do community service, as much as she can.