SSC students learning to give
OKABENA -- 'Tis the season for giving, but for a handful of students in Okabena, giving has become more of a lifestyle.
Thirteen juniors and seniors in Chris Elzenga's Learning to Give class at Southwest Star Concept High School have spent the last few months not only learning to give, but learning how.
"I really feel that students can learn to give, but they need opportunities," explained Elzenga. "They need to be shown where they can volunteer and what are the organizations and foundations that need help, and they need the opportunity to get there.
"My thought is if they learn this in high school and at a young age, they can be leaders in their communities, and they can volunteer and make a difference in their communities always."
The service-learning course Elzenga developed is now in its third year, and is funded by a grant from Education Minnesota and the Heron Lake-Okabena Foundation.
Elzenga said she hopes to continue the class for many years, but will need to secure more funding to do so.
The students' most recent project was making fleece blankets for children at Sanford Medical Center Worthington and the Ronald McDonald House in Sioux Falls, S.D.
"The blankets are greatly appreciated," said Jody Jackels, R.N., in a news release issued by the hospital. "They will put a smile on a child's face and a bright spot into their day."
Students have also volunteered with The Banquet in Sioux Falls, S.D., Mary's Place in Minneapolis, Second Harvest Heartland, Kids Against Hunger, Habitat for Humanity and Coats for Kids.
Though students spend most of their time working on service projects, the class begins with each student researching worldwide charities and picking a favorite to present to the class. From there, students form teams and pick one charity for which they will develop a fundraising plan.
The class votes on its favorite plan and spends the remainder of the course raising money for the chosen charity.
"It's not always just about the money; it's about learning the skills of fundraising and teamwork skills," Elzenga said.
This year, students are raising funds for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research. Last year, the class raised more than $2,500 for a cancer-stricken girl in their school, and in the course's first year, students raised enough to build a clean drinking water well in Africa.
Local volunteers are also invited to share their experiences. This quarter, the class has heard from Don and Elaine Stenzel, Heron Lake, who have spent several years organizing drives for the Mary Jo Copeland Sharing and Caring Hands outreach service for the poor; Mavis Wolfgramm, Lakefield, who shared information about trials faced by children in Tanzania; Pat Lenz, Windom, who taught the students how to make fleece blankets; Betsy Frodermann, Heron Lake, who shared how she benefitted from the Ronald McDonald House in Sioux Falls; and Diana Madsen, Heron Lake, who works with Second Harvest Heartland. Students joined Madsen's efforts, bagging 900 pounds of pasta and dehydrated food in a few hours.
Elzenga said she wants students to learn just how much of a need for volunteers there is, close to home or oceans away.
"The students write evaluation forms at end of the year, and I've had students come back and say it was just a really important part of their life and important part of their high school career. In the evaluation, most of them say that they are going to be life-long givers," she reflected. "It's been very rewarding to teach this class."