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Not just a season of giving

Three Rivers students serve the community year round
by: SUBMITTED PHOTO  Anya Blankenship, Harrison Chebuk, Tess Christensen, Nathan Barinstein, Tegan Thwaites and Kate Ray help out at the Children’s Book Bank.

The students at Three Rivers Charter School know it is better to give than to receive. And it is a lesson they practice year round, not just during the holiday season.

The school in West Linn, which houses 103 students in fourth through eighth grade, incorporates leadership and service projects into its curriculum.

'Leadership is a huge emphasis here,' Elizabeth Mathis, the school's office assistant, said. 'They take on responsibility as part of their individual growth.'

Throughout the year, eighth-graders are assigned a variety of different community service projects to perform, from preserving nature to helping seniors and homeless kids.

On Dec. 8, a group of students visited the Children's Book Bank in Portland to help clean and repair donated books that will then be given to homeless children, daycares and Head Start programs.

On Dec. 9, another group of students visited their adopted plot at Tryon Creek State Park to pull evasive weeds.

Students also do monthly shopping sprees for Store to Door, which delivers groceries to the homebound. This is one of eight-grader Abbie Stout's favorite service projects.

She said she enjoys the challenge of finding everything on the person's list, which can sometimes be very specific.

'You can tell a lot about a person by what's on their list,' she said.

But even more so, she said she likes the act of helping someone out. She recalled one gentleman she helped shop for when she spoke to him on the phone.

'You could just hear it in his voice; he was just so kind and grateful,' Stout said. 'You just get a warm feeling and know you are doing something right.'

Another favorite project among many of the students is serving lunch to the homeless at Blanchet House in Portland.

Student Grant Kresge, eighth grade, said he likes volunteering at Blanchet House because it's more of a hands-on activity.

Nathan Barinstein agreed.

'Giving people food and exchanging a couple of words and seeing their smile … is something I cherish,' he said. 'It's hard to get that feeling anywhere else.'

Not all of the school's projects are out of town; they also work to help those in their own community.

Last month, students brought cookies and crafts to seven homes through the West Linn Neighbors Helping Neighbors program.

'It was really cool to see how something so simple can make someone's day,' eighth-grader Sofia McFadden said.

'It's kind of neat for the students to see there's a need right in their own backyard,' Mathis said.

As part of the school's leadership curriculum, the students don't just show up and participate in the events, they also help plan and organize them. Once the project is complete, the students then follow up with a reflection.

'It's a really thoughtful process,' Mathis said.

This month, the students are also conducting a drive for the Community Transitional School. They are collecting toys and jeans for students at the school. Three Rivers is encouraging families to, instead of buying a Christmas gift for a teacher, buy a pair of jeans for the drive, Mathis said.

Giving back to the community isn't a new idea at Three Rivers; they've been practicing it for years.

'I'm hoping to raise people who see the world as part of their responsibility,' administrator Katherine Holtgraves said.

When talking to the students, it's quickly apparent the school is achieving that goal.

'You can really see you're making a change,' Barinstein said. 'I don't want to miss this. I'd like to capitalize on the time I have.'

Barinstein said some of the service projects motivate him to do things he wouldn't normally do, like helping at the Children's Book Bank.

'We are so much more privileged than many, many kids,' he said. 'I'm real motivated to make a change.'

Three Rivers Charter School is located at 4975 Willamette Falls Drive and is part of the West Linn-Wilsonville School District.