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CARECorps creates culture of service in high schoolers

Leaders in community want youth to be ready to give back

By Kaellen Hessel

 


Statesman Journal


You don’t have to wait until you’ve grown up to help your community. That’s the message CARECorps leaders want high school students to learn through a three-week service-learning camp that finishes Thursday.

“The city (of Salem) believes they’re actually capable of a lot more than society thinks they can (do),” said Laurie Shaw, the city’s youth development coordinator. “It’s pretty impressive to see what teens can accomplish with the right kind of adult partners.”

Through CARECorps — which is a partnership between the city, Salem-Keizer School District, Isaac’s Room and Salem-Keizer Education Foundation — about 60 incoming freshmen and sophomores worked on five projects at Marion-Polk Food Share.

They built a shed that will allow community gardeners to have easier access to seeds and tools; transformed the edible landscape garden into one that’s more accessible; prepared materials for future food drives; and worked on beautifying and installing educational signs at the youth farm and Hammond Elementary School’s garden.


In previous years, the program sent groups of campers to projects throughout the city. This year, leaders wanted to focus on increasing quality and depth of knowledge about an issue, said Marshall Curry, volunteer manager at the food share.

The hope was that having the corps united and knowledgeable about one specific issue in the community would make them stronger ambassadors for that cause, Shaw said.

Leaders want to create a culture of service among Salem’s youth. Shaw said she hopes that as the five-yearold program grows, it helps shape a culture where it’s the norm for people to give back.

Whenever other service opportunities have arisen, CARECorps partners have come back to this pool of students and gotten the help they need, Shaw said.

 

 

Although most of the projects are finished, one was intentionally designed to keep going. Teens designed promotional and how-to material that can be used throughout the school year as they host food drives. Curry said he hopes they’ll be able to reunite the groups for a food drive kick-off once school returns.

There are some obstacles that pop up while doing service work that are beyond the scope of what teens can handle — like applying for permits — but CARECorps leaders and mentors try to get the teens to problem solve as much as possible.

When a camper brings a problem to a leader, instead of dealing with it or pushing it up the chain of command, the      leader will first ask if the camper as any ideas of what can be done about it, Curry said.

One CARECorps team built raised beds for the edible landscape garden. The garden was originally planted directly in the ground, which made it difficult for the elderly, those in wheelchairs and those with physical disabilities to work or learn in it. For several years, staffers dreamed about making it disability-accessible.

Students have been involved with all aspects of the project: they designed it, called people and companies for donations, leveled the ground, built the boxes and tweaked their plans after a city inspector visited to see if it would meet ADA standards.

“We started with nothing and now we’ve actually got the task done,” said 15-year-old Antonio Munuz on Tuesday. “And the results are looking pretty
good.”

Munuz helped his team secure lumber for building the garden beds by calling local companies and asking for donations. He said he’s been having trouble figuring out what he’d like to do for a career, but the camp showed him he likes being outside much better than making phone calls from inside an office.

The CARECorps experience has been unlike any volunteering Munuz has done with his church or school, he said. It’s shown him that “you can really find yourself as the kind of person you want to be — in the moment.”


, (503) 399-6743 or follow on Twitter @KaellenHessel

 
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