Part two of two in a series from Emily Sterling, Middle School Program Director on service-learning projects and gratitude. (Check out part one, if you missed it!)
As part of my continued commitment to be in-person with our Camp Fire students, I accompanied Harrison Park Middle School on their mid-year service-learning project. The students themselves wanted to bring some love to elders in their community, so we took a bus to Fernhill Estates, an assisted living facility, to deliver holiday cards to senior citizens.
I worked with Camp Fire staff to prepare our students for the visit, letting them know that the environment might be pretty stark, and perhaps not every resident would be able to welcome them with open arms. Middle school students can be a raucous bunch, to say the least, so we also discussed our expectations for their behavior. We hoped that they would be polite and calm, and that they could see past the medicalized surroundings to have an intergenerational experience, and also give back to those without much connection.
We walked around and delivered cards to folks in their rooms. In one instance, an older gentleman followed us around with his walker after receiving his card because he enjoyed just being in the presence of young people. When we left, he was in tears because he was so touched by the card and the visitors. Five of our students met Hattie, a lively older lady who immediately got the students dancing, chatting, and talking with her.
We found out that some of these seniors would not see their families for the holidays, and some of our students shared that they are also not in contact with their own grandparents and missed having older people in their lives.
Hattie connected with the students more than anyone else we met that day. They were all in fits of laughter, showed Hattie how to twerk (much to my chagrin), and she gave them Juicy Fruit gum. At the end, one of the students gave her a huge hug and called Hattie her best friend.
Finally, I headed over to Peninsula Middle School to assist them with care packages for people experiencing homelessness. We work to help students identify what is most helpful when assisting others, not just what might make them feel good. With this intention in mind, the students were connected via our Youth Volunteer Corps staff member to the Portland Rescue Mission to collect the highest-need items (cough drops, socks, high protein food, water, dog food, sanitary products, soap, and chapstick) and shopped for those things. The students wanted to have a direct impact by not just raising money to give to an organization, but to pick out and “shop” for individual people. Each student put thought into those they were shopping for, and imagined who might wear this pair of socks, or eat that granola bar.
At the end of every service-learning project, we ask students to reflect on their experience. After putting together the care packages during Camp Fire programming, the youth described a new compassion they felt for those experiencing homelessness. Here is one student reflecting on her transformative experience in a video from this project.
I am so proud of the work that our Middle School students are doing every day. They’re engaging deeply with Camp Fire and investing in their own academics, connections to each other, and their community impact. They are improving their attendance, navigating conflict successfully, and deepening their compassion for others. It’s wonderful to see them growing so much.
(Pictured: Camp Fire youth in action. Top: Harrison Park Middle School student at Fernhill Estates. Middle: Peninsula Middle Schoolers with care packages for people experiencing homelessness.)