Volunteer program gains speed

This year, 18 students in grades 9-12 at Fairmont High School received the volunteer letter. Back row, from left: Lacey Gatton, Katie Jahnke, Adam Carstensen, Emily Lubenow, Eric Head and Aaron Hendricks. Middle row: William Saari, Jacalyn Reischl, Kelly Lopau, Madi Hagen and Kaiden Boerner. Front row: Elizabeth Nielsen, Emily Hagen, Izzy Munsch and Hailey Olbernolte. Not pictured: Emma Koehler, Natalie Abel and Janessa Nelson.

Last school year, Fairmont High School implemented a volunteer letter that students in grades 9-12 could earn after putting in at least 100 volunteer hours.

This year, the number of students who participated and received the letter more than doubled, increasing from 7 to 18.

Each student must complete 100 hours of unpaid volunteer work beginning in the summer, so these 18 students began logging hours last June.

As far as what type of volunteer work the students do, they have many options. They can volunteer at churches, hospitals, nursing homes, non-profits and parks, to name a few. It’s required that at least 50 hours be completed through one agency so that students are displaying understanding and commitment.

Emily Lubenow, a senior, put in most of her volunteer hours at Fairmont Elementary School helping some first- and second-grade teachers.

“I’m going [to college] for elementary education so I wanted to spend a lot of time with kids and get to know how the classroom feels and just get to help out,” Lubenow explained.

Lubenow also helped prepare for a vacation Bible school, which also required a significant number of volunteer hours.

Adam Carstensen, a senior, put in about 60 hours working at an orphanage in Haiti a few months ago.

“I did a lot of work with my hands. I’m going into welding and I enjoy working with my hands and that’s what I did down there,” he explained.

Carstensen also put in quite a few hours at the Fairmont Trap Club by building some picnic tables.

Emily Hagen, a freshman, worked a lot at Bethel Free Church. She helped out with a group called AWANA.

“I did it when I was little and wanted to give back,” she explained.

As a freshman, this was the first year Hagen could participate, but her older sister, Madi, received the volunteer letter last year and again this school year.

Five of the seven students who received the volunteer letter last year received it again this school year.

Izzy Munsch, a sophomore, set out to get the volunteer letter a second time by putting in 173 hours divided between several different organizations and projects.

“I volunteered at the Fairmont Opera House. They don’t have a cleaning lady so I did different cleaning projects and also ushered for shows,” Munsch explained.

She spent the bulk of her hours at the Opera House but also put in hours at Heavens Table Food Shelf and Grace Lutheran Church and with her Girl Scouts troop.

Eric Head is a junior who received the volunteer letter a second time. Head got most of his hours last summer by volunteering to work as the music director for the Children’s Theater Show.

“We put on Aladdin and it was two weeks of practices and all summer the directors would meet to figure things out,” Head explained.

He got more hours by helping out at Grace Lutheran Church and with Kids Against Hunger.

In addition to putting in 100 hours, students also need to get a letter of recommendation from one of the agencies where they volunteered or from an individual they helped. They also need to have someone log their hours in order to keep track of the total number. Finally, a reflection project is required that highlights what the students got out of their volunteer work.

“You can make a video or be creative somehow to show what you did,” Munsch explained.

Some of the students ended up writing an essay while others opted for a PowerPoint presentation.

“The volunteering for most of us really isn’t hard because we’re already doing it. So we just log our hours,” Hagen explained.

When asked if the students plan to go for it again next year, the majority said yes without hesitation.

Mat Mahoney, activities director at the high school, said he was blown away when he saw all the applications come in.

“We went from 7 students in 2017 to 18 students in 2018,” he said. “I think it’s a great incentive for kids because it allows them to take their individual talent and skills and give back to our community.”