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Tigard, Tualatin see surge in high school volunteers

The Tigard-Tualatin School District's Senior Seminar and other school activities are requiring volunteer service
by: Jennifer Clampet, VOLUNTEERING TIME — Tualatin High seniors (from left) Maggie Alexander and Connie Rae Shobaken paint a mural of a water polo player on the gymnasium wall at Byrom Elementary School in February. The mural was part of a senior project for National Honor Society members.

Maggie Alexander called it 'filling the void.'

On Feb. 24 she and Hannah Points, both seniors at Tualatin High School headed up a group of five volunteers to paint murals at Byrom Elementary School.

Russ Alvarez, Byrom's PE specialist, walked around the gym nodding his head as the girls worked. The windowless gymnasium needed something he said.

Years ago another group of volunteers from Tualatin High School had painted murals on Byrom's gym walls. In that group was Alexander's sister.

This year Alexander and Points had to come up with a senior project for National Honor Society. As Alexander painted in the broad shoulders of a water polo player, she noted that she was just helping to add more color to the bare walls. Sandwiched between two other murals previously painted by her sister, Alexander said she was just filling the void.

In the last two years, the cities of Tigard and Tualatin have seen quite a few teenagers filling in on volunteer projects.

The surge of youth volunteers comes from school clubs and the newly required Senior Seminar in the Tigard-Tualatin School District, which requires each student to do four hours of community service.

Tualatin High Senior Seminar teacher Jim McCaffrey jokingly notes that a lot of trees have been planted by Senior Seminar his reference to the fact that most students stumble into the volunteering projects. McCaffrey said it's been a challenge to get students to be creative in their projects. The cities of Tigard and Tualatin offer volunteer opportunities through the libraries and outdoor projects.

But for other students, McCaffrey said, volunteering really takes off. One Tualatin student raised a guide dog for his project. Another worked with a ministry in downtown Portland.

At Tigard High, Susan Suttich has had students volunteer with outdoor camps, do a 30-hour fast and take part in beach clean ups.

Both Suttich and McCaffrey agreed that getting students to find volunteer projects was the hard part. But afterward, the teachers have never heard a student say that volunteering wasn't worth it.

'It's about seeing how one person can make a difference,' said Suttich.

At first, teens looking for volunteer opportunities gave an immediate surge at the local libraries.

Tigard library's volunteer coordinator, Trish Stormont, said the prospect of more and more teens wanting to put in volunteer hours at the library worried some staffers.

'We started with, 'What! Thirty teenagers! What do we do with them?'' she said. 'And now we're like, 'When are they coming back?''

Stormont said that even after reshelving 8,000 books, a job that exhausts most library staff members, the teen volunteers seem to zip through it and come out asking for more.

Stormont has realized 'there seems like there's no amount that's enough. The kids just keep coming.'

And that's a fact that is exciting volunteer coordinators in both cities. The city of Tualatin Web site, www.ci.tualatin.or.us, has a link under the community section that leads to a page dedicated to the Senior Seminar program which then has links to volunteer applications.

Melissa Koons, Tualatin's library volunteer specialist, said the city put the page up as soon as Senior Seminar kicked off last school year. Bob Roth, Tigard's volunteer coordinator, said Tigard is currently trying to boost volunteering efforts not only for the city but also for community groups. Both cities also get youth volunteers from groups like Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Eagle Scouts.

But Koons said that with Senior Seminar, the Tualatin library has seen a definite surge in young people volunteering.

Tualatin High senior Connie Rae Shobaken said she's still thinking of a volunteer project to do. As she dabbed a paintbrush on a wall at Byrom Elementary School last month, she noted, 'There's a lot out there to do.'