United Way of Pierce County recognized some of the best and brightest youth from Pierce County schools on May 24 at Puyallup Park Pavilion for their volunteerism in their community and around the world.
The 150 students from around the county were honored for tallying at least 145 hours of volunteer activities during the past year. Each student received honors from UWPC as well as a varsity letter from their respective schools for their willingness to donate their time and talent to community causes.
Arden Johnson, a sophomore at Curtis Senior High School, for example, logged 182 volunteer hours, while her friend Maria Gonzalez, sophomore at Charles Wright Academy, tallied 161 volunteer hours. Both girls logged many of those hours last summer, when their church youth group at Lakewood’s St. Mary’s Episcopal Church ventured to Yakima for a mission trip. The group traveled to Campbell’s Farm, which hosts a day camp for children specifically to run a farm and organizes volunteers to assist in the community. During their trip the group prepared breakfast for the day campers and played games with them in the afternoons after volunteering during the day. They also helped families with yardwork that were either paralyzed or unable to physically do the work. Spare time was spent sorting at the recycling center so that they could use the recycled donation to raise money for the farm and preparing food and sorting fruit that would later go to foodbanks. Other activities included organizing clothes so they would be ready to donate to shelters and cleaning out a storage space and making it ready to be used as a nursery for the school center. Days started around dawn and ran well into the evening.
Since its inception in 2002, the number of students receiving varsity letters in community service has grown each year. Pierce County is the first county in the nation to offer such a program, where students receive a varsity letter for service just like those given to athletes and musicians. United Way of Pierce County is now working with communities across the country to incorporate similar programs, using Youth United's effort as a model.
The Varsity Letter in Community Service program recognizes students in grades nine through 12, who volunteered 145 hours or more of community service between April 1 and March 31. To qualify, students were required to volunteer with at least one school-related project and one community-related project. The average number of hours for this year's group was 236 hours, with the top number of hours by a single student at 1,500. The value of this volunteer time as determined by national standards set by Independent Sector is over $2.8 million.
Students volunteered their time with community organizations and school activities such as the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, FISH Food Banks, YMCA, Communities in Schools, American Cancer Society, Boy Scouts of America, Girl Scouts of the USA, Youth United, Key Club and National Honor Society.
Among those students, 14 also received Willie Stewart Community Service Scholarships of $2,000 to $2,500 for their excellence in volunteer work. Eligibility for the scholarship requires that students qualify for the varsity letter in community service, describe their most rewarding volunteer experience and demonstrate a history of community service completed throughout high school.