Student learns from serving

Published 10:09 pm Thursday, November 4, 2010

Volunteer: Chelsea Gray is a junior at Lakeland High School, and since the beginning of the school year has completed six volunteer activities, including reading to children at Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School, above.

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of stories about students in a new service-learning class at Lakeland High School.

Growing up, Chelsea Gray was active in the Relay for Life and the Memory Walk.

Her great-grandmother passed away from Alzheimer’s last year. She remembers watching her struggle each week when her family went to visit at the care facility.

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“Sometimes she’d forget our names or mix us up with other grandkids, and each week we’d introduce ourselves to others living there and have to do it again the next week,” Chelsea said. “It’s really sad to see.”

Her aunt, who lived in Windsor, was only 40 years old when she died of colon cancer. She left behind her family and a 7-year-old daughter.

“We’ve tried to reach out and spend time my cousin,” Chelsea said. “I just can’t imagine living without my mom.”

When Chelsea read about a “service-learning” class that was being piloted this year at Lakeland High School, she knew she wanted to be a part of it and to help raise awareness and money for cancer and Alzheimer’s research — and it has sparked a fire in the young teen.

“I guess I just like helping people,” she said with a humble shrug.

Students in the class must complete 70 hours of active volunteer work throughout the year and are engaged in several community service projects throughout the year. For each project, students must research their topic, connect it to Standards of Learning requirements, give presentations to their classmates about their work and record everything they do in a binder.

In just the past two months, Chelsea has completed six different projects and is just starting to pick up steam.

“Once I did one project, I just wanted to keep doing more,” Chelsea said. “You learn as you do things, and once you learn how to do one thing it kind of builds on itself and helps you know how to do the next thing you want to do. I want my binder to be completely full by the end of the year.”

Chelsea began the semester by volunteering at the Mutt Strut, which benefited the Suffolk Humane Society, on Sept. 19 — the second weekend after school began.

“There’s not a lot of people who help out with the animals, and I like animals,” Chelsea said. “People can tell you when they need help, but animals can’t. They need help, too.”

Chelsea is also active in collecting cans for the food bank, for which she’ll be spending this Saturday in front of a grocery store appealing to shoppers for donations.

She also participated in Family Reading Night at Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School. She dressed up as a bumblebee to read books to students, listened as older children read books to her and helped them take their reading tests.

She also walked in the Memory Walk with her “Nana” in memory of her great-grandmother and is gearing up to start a Relay for Life team this year.

She has also been a part of two projects involving breast cancer awareness and is preparing to help in a class project for recycling.

“This class has really inspired me to become more active in helping people,” Chelsea said. “I don’t think [high school students] volunteer as much as we should. Some people have other priorities, like sports, but this is everybody’s community and everyone should help one another. If we can help, we should.”