OTTUMWA— Thirty-five OHS seniors accumulated over 9,200 hours of volunteer service to their school and community during their four years of high school, according to OHS Principal, Mark Hanson. The seniors will wear a silver cord during graduation on Sunday, May 28. Silver Cord recipients volunteered at least 200 hours to their community during their four years in high school.
While posing for the annual group photo, several seniors shared stories about their experiences and the impact volunteering had on their life.
McKenna Duff volunteered over 500 hours to earn her silver cord. And that number is probably low. “I didn’t do papers (document the activity) for everything,” she said. Her activities reflect her passions, camp counselor for Wilson Elementary’s science camp and for church, Vacation Bible School, Clover Kids (4-H), and helping her mom run the band concession stand. She also participated in three mission trips through her church. “It’s not about the honor but about the community,” she said. “Giving back, the whole community helped us (the senior class) get where we are. I really enjoy giving back.”
That spirit of giving led her to choose nursing as her career path. “I’ve always known I wanted to be a nurse,” she said. “I like helping people.”
The volunteer opportunities also provided the opportunity for her to gain valuable skills, such as communication, working with people, and time management. For the concession stand, she made trips to the store and had to figure out how much product to purchase and cost per item. “I helped at every home game and every home wrestling meet.”
While 200 hours may sound like a lot, it’s not bad, according to Duff. “It’s easy to achieve by doing a little at a time,” Duff said. “Find something you enjoy volunteering for. There are always needs, you just have to look for it.”
Volunteering runs in her family. “Mom has been my biggest role model,” said Duff. “I got a lot of support from my parents to be the best person I can be.” Duff enjoyed all of the experiences and confessed she couldn’t have done it without them.
Her twin sister, Maddy, did just as much as she did but didn’t turn in all the paperwork. Her advice to future classes, “always keep the papers!”
Ashley Gruwell did a variety of activities to earn her hours, including walking dogs at Heartland Humane, helping with the elementary science camp, Student Council activities, and being an OHS teacher assistant. “People needed help and it’s the right thing to do,” said Gruwell. She doesn’t plan to stop volunteering after she receives her silver cord.
Elizabeth Kearney went on four mission trips to locations in the Midwest, including Missouri, Arkansas, and Tennessee. The trips involved helping homeowners with repairs such as roofing, yard work, and painting. “I learned I have a more fortunate life than others,” she said. The work inspired her career choice. She plans to pursue a degree in social work at the University of Northern Iowa.
David Bossou took a mission trip to Haiti to help missionaries while they are helping others. Work included painting and remodeling a church building. He also assisted with his church’s Vacation Bible School activities. He wants to become a paramedic and plans to continue mission work as an adult. “It humbles you to see what you have and what others don’t have,” Bossou said. “Don’t take everything for granted.”
Kyleigh Wagner spent three years in Interact Club at OHS. The group supports a variety of community events and activities, including races, Thanksgiving baskets, food drives, etc. “You get to see people in need in your area and it makes you appreciate what you have,” Wagner said.
Jajuan Bridges took a mission trip to San Salvador, the capital and largest city in the Central American country of El Salvador. He helped to build an orphanage for girls who had been kidnapped as part of human trafficking. “I’ve never seen conditions like that before,” he said. “You realize how blessed we are in the U.S., workers in the lower class only earn $8 a day.”
Madison Beltran started volunteering because it looked good on college applications. She didn’t expect the experience to be life changing. “It really impacted me,” she said. She was lifeguarding at the YMCA when she learned about Empower, a program that teaches life skills to children with disabilities. Volunteers are assigned to one student at a time. She also began giving free swimming lessons to children who were preparing to participate in Special Olympics. Other sports related activities included coaching youth sports and running the scoreboard for adult leagues at the Y.
She also volunteered 40 hours with her church’s Vacation Bible School program. “My experiences taught me kindness, patience, and how to work with people. It brings you happiness working with those kids.”
She hopes to help people by becoming an occupational therapist. “I hope to spend half my time working with disabled patients, the other half doing sports medicine,” she said. “Volunteering made me a lot better person.”
“These students have learned the importance of contributing to their community,” said Hanson. “While I am very proud of these students for earning the Silver Cord, it’s more important that these seniors have gotten into the habit of volunteering that will benefit their communities for years to come.”
Seniors and their volunteer hours include: Ainsley Arnold, 202.5; Sarahi Bahena, 217; Madison Beltran, 320; Kossi Bossou, 303.25; Jajuan Bridges, 330.5; Justin Budan, 214; Mia Calcaterra, 202; Ellen Carlson, 201.5; Marissa Cartwright, 326.5; Janielle Cobler, 251.75; Danae Dorothy, 227.25; McKenna Duff, 509; Madison Duff, 425; and Hannah Enloe, 201.25. Also Kalina Eskew, 411.5; Lindsey Fischer, 236.5; Allison Grooms, 204; Ashley Gruwell, 215; Dalton Handling, 204; Christopher Hensley, 240; Alec Hensley, 204; Madaline Hucks, 226; Elizabeth Kearney, 372; Lucy Kjer, 204; Gabriela Lopez, 200.5; Destiney Playle, 262; Alexandra Reeves, 327.5; Ryley Robinson, 234; Madisyn Schlotter, 200; Mallori Schulz, 459; Kimberly Souravong, 200.5; Kyleigh Wagner, 204; Taisha Wilbanks, 226; Alexzandrea Woudenberg, 221; and Ashlyn Zook, 297.5.