Some young Helenans are giving up part of their summer break to give back to the community they live in — and coming away with valuable life lessons for themselves.

They started volunteering with AmeriCorps Vista’s “You Got Served” program last month, and in a few weeks, among other projects, they have painted residents’ fingernails at local care centers, bagged potatoes at Helena Food Share and cleaned up the trail at Spring Meadow Lake.

“They’ve learned to work together, the value of work and the satisfaction of doing work without any payback,” said Mishel Stovall, a para professional with the school district who is working with the program.

Hope Christensen said she feels good about lending a hand in the community that has helped her as she grows up.

“Sometimes people help me even with a smile,” the C.R. Anderson eighth-grader said.

Christensen said it’s important that young people learn the value of volunteerism and helping out in the community so they continue that way of thinking into adulthood.

“Community service isn’t easy, but it can be fun,” the 13-year-old said. “It takes time and effort, but it’s rewarding and you feel proud of yourself.”

During the first few weeks of the program, facilitators planned and organized the students’ community service projects. Students did an oral history project at the Rocky Mountain and Big Sky care centers, created a mural at a local community garden, and reduced the fire hazard at Spring Meadow Lake by clearing brush away from the trails.

Starting this week, students are coming up with their own ideas about how to help out the Queen City.

Some students on Monday set up tables at Shopko and Safeway to collect such items like beef jerky, sports magazines and trail mix to send to soldiers overseas, while others washed cars to raise money for St. Peter’s Foundation.

As Cody Schnepel happily washed Kevin Keeler’s Audi in the parking lot at Helena Middle School, Keeler said he was glad to see young people taking an active role in a good cause during the summer months.

“I saw the sign; it’s a nice day, and I could always use a clean car,” he said after giving the students a $20 bill. “A hand wash is always the best — it’s worth it.”

William Reichert didn’t mind washing cars for a good cause, but admitted that he preferred the project at Spring Meadow Lake because the volunteers were allowed to swim once the work was done.

Natalia Potrzuski is an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer for the Helena Public Schools and is heading up the “You Got Served” endeavor.

She said the program aims to engage middle school students with meaningful service in the community when they have some free time on their hands.

“It’s an age (group) that people don’t typically think of (when it comes to volunteering),” Potrzuski said.

Students did the get some sweat on their brows with manual labor, but they also learned about conflict resolution and teamwork, along with doing some career exploration.

Twelve-year-old Katie Tetrault agreed to participate after her mother signed her up for the five-week program.

“I thought it sounded interesting, and I was correct,” she said Monday afternoon. “Not only do I get to spend time with my friends, but I get to help people in need. I like helping out people because it makes people feel better about themselves.”

Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081 or alana.listoe@helenair.com

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