Grand Valley teens find love for service

With the help of junior Kyle Hickman, right, Emily Cuevas adds tomatoes to sandwiches that her group is preparing for teacher conferences at Fruita Monument High School. The proceeds were to be donated to the American Cancer Society and the Invisible Children of Uganda charities.

Central High School junior Chelsea Aaberg helps 9-year-old Trystan Matheson with his reading in Mrs. Tracy Berg’s fourth-grade classroom at Nisley Elementary School.

Grand Junction High School student Chris Kadel volunteers with his youth group at Redlands Community Church.

Amy Gekas sorts cans for a food drive. Palisade High School has a goal of collecting enough cans to fill a semitrailer.

It’s required at Grand Junction High School, an elective class at Central, the subject of a club at Fruita Monument and something anyone can do on their own at Palisade.

Service learning, which can include any kind of volunteering, from walking dogs at an animal shelter to organizing a fund drive for a cause that helps build schools in another country, has become a common pastime in School District 51. A 2009 survey conducted by the school district found two-thirds of all local high school students perform some form of service learning.

Some do it to graduate or to beef up transcripts, but many say they simply love to help others. The following stories highlight four local teens committed to service learning for the fun and sense of meaning it brings to them.


Central High School

Every day after lunch, junior Chelsea Aaberg joins 17 other students in a service-learning class at Central High School.

Aaberg joined the class her freshman year.

“I always wanted to help people and never knew how to on my own,” Aaberg said.

Aaberg volunteers with her classmates each Thursday at Nisley Elementary School to help the children learn to “play nice.” She also organized a book drive for elementary school students, and she volunteers with Central Ties, a group that helps new students assimilate at the school. Next semester, she will host a one-day Perceptions Actively Changed by Teens (PACT) conference for middle school students and teach them about helping people and encourage the students to become leaders.

Her biggest project to date will be a camp she’s hosting this June for obese middle school students.

“I was in biology my sophomore year, and my teacher said (obese) youth are in trouble,” Aaberg said.

That inspired her to host a camp that will help students learn to be active.

“You don’t have to join a gym,” she said. “Just understand how we physically and psychologically gain weight.”

Aaberg researched the issue of childhood obesity and interviewed a few people with knowledge of the issue in formulating how the camp will work.

She still is figuring out how to make it work, but Aaberg said someday she would like to have a job that continues her history of service learning.


Fruita Monument High School

As president of Fruita Monument High School’s Interact Club, a volunteerism-minded branch of Rotary International for youth, senior Emily Cuevas is in charge of helping the two dozen students in the club select a local, national and international project to focus on each year.

At the local level, the club has volunteered at the Fruita Fall Festival, cleaned up parts of the highway, and volunteered at Catholic Outreach’s soup kitchen. The club raised $1,000 last year for Relay for Life, which ties to the club’s national project helping the American Cancer Society. Cuevas wants to organize the club to participate in that event again this year. She would like to raise money by setting up a donation wall at the school where people can purchase a cutout of a hand and place the name of a person they know with cancer on the hand.

For the club’s international project, Interact students are raising money for Invisible Children, a group trying to build schools and create jobs in Uganda in an effort to lure child soldiers away from war in the African country.

“It’s kids getting to help out kids in another country,” Cuevas said.

Cuevas’ father was a member of the Peace Corps, something she finds interesting but isn’t sure she’ll participate in. Whatever she does or wherever she goes after school, though, she’d like to continue volunteering in her community.

“Wherever I go, I want to stay involved,” she said.


Palisade High School

The Women’s Bean Project was presented to Palisade High senior Amy Gekas as an organization for which her school could host a fundraiser.

“It hit me that it could be more than that,” Gekas said.

The Denver-based project recruits women that have been down on their luck and teaches them a sustainable skill by having them make bean-based products that people can buy directly through the project or from students selling the products to raise funds.

Gekas would like to expand the project to Grand Junction and have at least one local woman make the products. She has yet to achieve that goal, but she is in contact with project representatives and has recruited members of the yearbook committee and student government to sell Women’s Bean products.

“I’m not going to stop until it’s here,” Gekas said of having the project branch out to the Grand Valley.

Gekas said she wants to help because she never has been in a position similar to the women working for the project, and she wants to help them. Women working for the Women’s Bean Project learn life and financial skills from experts as well as product-making skills.

“It’s satisfying to me. It’s the satisfaction of knowing I changed people’s lives,” she said.

Gekas is also working on a food drive at her school. Palisade High has a goal of collecting enough cans to fill a semitrailer and surpass last year’s collection of 18,000 cans for local organizations.


Grand Junction High School

A desire for volunteerism is all in the family for Grand Junction High School junior Chris Kadel.

Early in his life, Kadel’s mother served as president of a nonprofit organization focused on Shwachman Diamond Syndrome, a rare disease Kadel’s sister has. Kadel has carried on the family tradition of giving as president of Grand Junction High’s Interact Club.

The club so far this year has hosted a community clothing drive for the needy, had students purchase links in a paper chain and write an act of kindness they committed onto each link, and invited a representative from northern Uganda to tell students about Invisible Children. Students will collect spare change in classrooms for Invisible Children from Nov. 29 to Dec. 17.

One of Kadel’s favorite service-learning projects is working with 3- to 5-year-olds at Redlands Community Church.

“They’re a lot of fun,” he said.

Grand Junction High students are the only students in the Grand Valley who have to volunteer in order to graduate. Kadel said some students grumble about the task, but he had his required 30 hours of service learning completed as a freshman.

“If you find something you like to do, it’s not service learning, it’s just fun,” Kadel said.


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