PHS students seek volunteers to help serve the community

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Purdy is a city in the process of renewal -- a slow and steady process kept alive by students from the local high school hoping to one day live in a thriving community.

"We have come to understand that what makes a town resilient -- what makes people resilient is the strength of their social networks," said Jerry Wass, foreign language instructor at Purdy High School who also teaches classes in service learning.

Almost eight years ago, students in the Spanish Club struggled with a way to be relevant and make a difference in a town in need of renewal. They started with a simple recycling program that has grown over the years to credit classes in community service.

The program called "service learning" is offered to students in grades 6-12 in the Purdy School District. The middle school offers a one-semester class while the high school program has grown to three one-year classes. Providing hands-on service to the community furnishes a valuable component for students in need of experience for college applications or just getting a job.

"It goes along with colleges beginning to look for community service on applications and industries beginning to look favorably at community service on job applications," said Wass. "That first job is so hard for students to get these days, so if they can show they have any work experience, even in a community service setting, then that's helpful."

The Spanish Club continues to provide the vision for this program and within the last year, gardening was added to the curriculum. The club hopes to make additional inroads into the community in the coming months.

"Our Spanish Club is always pushing the envelope on trying to find ways to teach things that are important that don't have a place in the curriculum," said Wass. "We're moving it to higher and higher levels as we see new opportunities to do so."

Currently under consideration is expanding the idea of service to interested adults who live within the community. The students work closely with the Purdy Renewal Project and have met with the city council on several occasions hoping to generate support for a formalized adult community service program.

"It's become painfully apparent that there's a disparity because we have students doing well over 1,000 hours of community service per year in recycling and gardening, and nothing for adults to do in a formal way in Purdy," said Wass. "We believe that by extending community service to adults, we can develop stronger social relationships within the town."

The students have developed preliminary plans for a formalized program and have even developed a theme, "Taxes keep a town alive, but community service makes it thrive." They hope to start the program small and see how it will develop.

"The easiest way for us to start is to open up our recycling building again on Saturday mornings to be run by adults," said Wass. "We don't want to restrict this to recycling. We hope that as soon as we get to the point where we have enough coverage on any given Saturday that there will be other adults who can look at a list of things that we'd like to do around town and say, 'Let's go tackle this.'"

Students are hoping to have 20 adults from the community commit to providing 10 hours of community service a year. They envision their role as guiding the adults in the beginning and then tracking hours worked. They would also like the City Council to recognize these individuals and publish their names as those who are invested in the community. Those unable to work would be offered the same level of recognition by making a financial contribution of a pre-determined amount to the program. Interested individuals should visit the Recycling Center on Tuesdays between 3:30 and 6 p.m.

The overall vision of this program is to offer residents of Purdy the opportunity to become invested in their community in more than just paying taxes.

"Taxes don't teach a town how to take care of itself -- they don't teach people how to form social relationships with their neighbors" said Wass. "We believe that by extending community service to adults, we can increase communication and get things done that otherwise would not get done."

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