St. Francis students volunteer to spruce up the Center for Children and Families Thursday

2014-05-01T20:35:00Z 2014-05-02T00:42:55Z St. Francis students volunteer to spruce up the Center for Children and Families ThursdayBy NICK BALATSOS nbalatsos@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

A group of seventh- and eighth-graders from St. Francis Upper on Thursday got a taste for something their teachers hope will become a part of their lives forever — volunteering.

While a majority of their friends were at a track meet Wednesday, 50 students from St. Francis pitched in at the Center for Children and Families, arriving around 9 a.m, after which they picked up trash, cleaned windows and helped spruce up the place.

Mary Landry, a seventh- and eighth-grade religion teacher, said the opportunity to volunteer at a nonprofit organization such as the Center for Children and Families offered the kids a lesson in “social justice.”

“In order to teach them social justice ... we need to provide them with a whole variety of people who are in need of assistance,” Landry said, adding that she hopes helping the less fortunate will imbue the kids with a sense of empathy.

The Center for Children and Families is a behavioral health agency that promotes the well-being of children while strengthening their families.

Landry said the school has been doing other service projects around the city, but this one was especially great because it offered the kids the opportunity to help other kids and their families.

Joshua Skinner, 24, the volunteer coordinator for the center, welcomed the enthusiasm.

He said it was unusual that so many people came out to volunteer. When groups come from other schools they usually bring about 10 people, he said.

The added size of the crew meant more cleaning and maintenance could get done around the center, which Skinner said was great. As a nonprofit organization they have no money for things like that, he said.

Skinner said any time someone comes to help it translates to more resources that the organization can allocate to helping children and families in need.

He said his job for the event was to create a list of things for the kids to do that would be both meaningful and fun.

Skinner hopes the experience will encourage them to volunteer in the future.

“I truly believe that getting kids started early will help them do it in the future,” he said. “We need to instill that sense of urgency to help the community in kids,” he added.

Linda Gray, a seventh-grade English and reading teacher, seconded that, saying, “It’s something to grow on. If they see how easy it is and that they can have fun with kids doing it, we want them to continue it.”

Gray also said the experience of volunteering helped them “think outside of themselves.”

Seventh-grader Sarah Pankratz, 13, said she has been volunteering “pretty much (her) whole life.”

She said volunteering at the center hit both marks of being rewarding and fun.

“I think it’s really important to help other families,” Sarah said. “I think it’s really sad when families don’t have what I have.”

Kara Cranston, a seventh-grader, said hanging out with friends in the beautiful sunny weather while “giving back to the community” was hard to beat.

Her friend McKenzie Shirley piped in, saying, “It makes us feel good helping others.”

Skinner said his organization “fills the gaps” in services that government agencies and private companies can’t provide while serving “a very specific population.”

If you are interested in volunteering, Skinner said to contact him.

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