Anthony Keene and Justin Johnson crouched down Saturday morning in a Billings Head Start classroom, wiping kid-sized chairs and tables with rags soaked in bleach and water.
“It’s surprising that we used to fit in one of these things,” Keene, 18, said, nodding toward one of the red plastic chairs.
“They’re a little small,” Johnson, 18, agreed.
The two West High seniors were part of a contingent of 15 from the school’s National Honor Society at Head Start’s North Park Center for two hours of cleaning. Dubbed the “Germ Annihilators” by Head Start volunteer coordinator Tera DeBolt, the teens spread out among eight classrooms to do a little germ warfare.
The NHS group is the second to take part in the new monthly wipe-down, DeBolt said. The first, Campus Corps Montana, brought 42 students in November from all over the state to Head Start, which serves 261 3- and 4-year-olds in Billings.
“We have cleaning people come in and do floors and bathrooms every day,” DeBolt said. “But as far as keeping every little item clean and germ-free, we just have to keep on top of it.”
She came up with the idea of bringing in volunteer groups once a month to disinfect the classrooms, especially this time of year, when flu and colds run rampant.
“I started bringing in service groups to clean toys, every surface, anywhere that a child could put their hands or sneeze,” DeBolt said.
Volunteer help is crucial to the nonprofit child development program that serves low-income children and their families. Billings Head Start gets $3.5 million annually from the federal government only if it raises $672,000, or 20 percent of its yearly budget, at the community level, DeBolt said.
In-kind donations, such as volunteers coming in to help out, make up a portion of that donation, she said.
Volunteers also help the staff keep their focus where it belongs, on the students.
“A lot of time teachers and their assistants don’t have time to do this,” DeBolt said. “If we did not have our volunteers and our community, we would not have Head Start.
Nicole Moser, 17, also part of West High’s National Honor Society, organized the group’s participation in Saturday’s event.
The goal of each student in the group is to participate in four service projects during the school year, Moser said, and it’s up to the students to coordinate them.
As she talked, Moser washed a dozen wooden puzzles and the shelf on which they sat.
She was following the instructions DeBolt gave to the students as they divided up among the classrooms.
“She was pulling out all these things and I’m like, ‘my God, they do touch everything,’ “ Moser said.
The West High senior toured Head Start last year as part of a youth leadership program. When she learned about the Germ Annihilators project, she knew she wanted to get involved with it.
“They really try to look out for kids here,” Moser said. “And they do a really good job with them.”