“The idea is that we live simply and we don’t have phones during the whole time,” said the class’s teacher, Melissa Fisher. “When they were doing service they were allowed to take pictures and that’s it.”
For eight years, Fisher has led the program, but said the 2020 work week was a new experience for everyone.
“The kids were so ready to get out and do something,” Fisher said. “They haven’t seen each other — when we left for the year, we thought we’d be back in two weeks and then we weren’t…. These are a really good bunch of teenagers. A lot of them said, ‘I felt a purpose for the first time in a long time.’”
Students spent much of the week helping local churches with work the maintenance crew might have struggled to finish at the beginning of summer due to the virus, including painting most of the iron-rod fence at Harshman Cemetery in Riverside.
The class also prepared and packaged 100 lunches every morning to take to St. Vincent de Paul Dayton, worked with Rebuilding Together Dayton to fix-up and paint the entire exterior of a West Dayton home and other smaller acts of service throughout the week.
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While this year’s class could not physically live together, the same principles of living simply applied throughout the week. Each day of service ended with students returning home, and Fisher meeting them for a two-hour virtual class on Zoom.
Guest speakers from the Dayton community would join the video call each night, including Lela Klein from Co-Op Dayton, who taught students about Dayton’s problems surrounding food insecurity.
Another special project during the week was creating 100, two-gallon bags full of crafts for grade school kids who are stuck at home for the summer. Students partnered with Brianna Watson, social worker with Eastway Corporation, to distribute to kids Watson would visit while on home visits.
“The kids all really enjoyed getting art supplies that can keep them busy during this pandemic,” Watson said. “Most of them took things out one by one and it was fun to see.”
Before the week was through, Fisher said the maintenance workers at multiple parishes told her that the work the students did would have taken two maintenance people the entire summer to complete.
“(Students) were like, ‘It gave me a reason to get up every day,’” Fisher said. “Because they had to be where they were going to be by 9 a.m. every morning and we stayed out for three to four hours a day. … They just loved the idea of having a challenge, doing something and doing it together.”