As many as 800 Summerlin students left school recently to get their hands dirty and help others before the holidays.
Each year Faith Lutheran Middle School’s students leave the campus to do good deeds as part of the school’s Service Event, an annual day of giving. It began in 2007; this year’s event was Nov. 18.
Kelli Ongman has been teaching at Faith for 12 years and serves as a Service Event chaperone.
“Everywhere there is to serve, we serve,” she said. “The teachers ask the kids, ‘Where do you think you’d like to serve?’ and then give some options. One of them, like Mr. (Stephen) Blank, has been going to Catholic Charities since this event started. They’ve kind of formed a bond, you might say.”
Other nonprofits that have benefited from Faith’s effort include Three Square, Horses4Heroes, Project 150, Clean the World and Casa de Luz.
This year, more than two dozen Faith students were bused to downtown Las Vegas, where they helped 9th Bridge School with chores such as organizing, painting, clearing out clutter and reading to the young children enrolled there.
School founder Connie Yeh and Kimberly Guiry, a school representative, greeted the students in the multipurpose room with its high rafters and stained-glass windows.
“Even though we have parents come into the classroom to read and volunteer, everyone brings different perspective. Kids to kids, they get different perspective,” Yeh said. “We haven’t had middle-schoolers come in yet, so this is a new thing.”
The older students were advised to take a hands-off approach at 9th Bridge School, which enrolls children age 6 weeks to second grade.
“When you see the little kids, everyone thinks they’re really, really cute and all, but please,” cautioned Guiry, “don’t pick up the kids.”
Laynie Milohnic, 12, Sean Keegan, 11, and Christian Cullotta, 11, were tasked with clearing the garden.
Yeh showed them how to cull weeds and harvest the plants — red chard, beets, cilantro and kale. The school uses the produce to make juice for its 65 students.
Laynie’s grandmother owns a big farm in Washington, and Laynie visits there almost every summer to help out.
“She has a big garden, so I’m used to this,” she said as she pulled up beets. “I like helping people and making things easier for them. It’s a good way to show off spirit.”
Sean said that when he was given a choice of what kind of facility to visit, he knew he “wanted to help a preschool in need. They said there were a bunch of little kids running around here who needed help with stuff.”
He’d never heard of 9th Bridge before but said it was obvious that the building was once a church.
Christian added, “This is different because we’re going out and helping other kids — kids in need who maybe aren’t as fortunate as us. … I’m not just doing it for myself, but I’m doing it for other people.”
Christian said his parents give back as well, by donating clothes he and his sisters have outgrown to the Las Vegas-based Grant a Gift Autism Foundation and food to a pantry at Christmastime.
Around the corner, other Faith students had spread heavy plastic and were painting two picnic tables in bright colors.
As the day warmed up, jackets came off. One student made a beeline for the sink when she got paint splattered on her clothes. Another used a hair tie to gather the hem of her oversized Faith Go Crusaders T-shirt, keeping it in check.
When a class of toddlers made their way past the middle-schoolers to go to the playground, a chorus of “Oh, how cute!” broke out among the Faith Lutheran students.
Other efforts by classmates were taking place simultaneously at a home for veterans, where students painted walls, spruced up the place and handed out holiday goodies; Las Vegas Rescue Mission, where students helped with Thanksgiving holiday preparations; Nevada Senior Services adult day care, where students did crafts with the seniors and showed off their dance moves; and various elementary schools, where Faith students read to at-risk children.
“I love that I get to see the students in another light,” Ongman said. “Sometimes we focus on me, me, me, and it’s not about me but serving others with a joyful heart and a Christian attitude. I’ve never gone a year where the kids haven’t put their best foot forward. … It’s my favorite day of the school year.”
To reach Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan, email email@example.com or call 702-387-2949.