While many middle schoolers spend their summer days visiting the community pool or hanging out with their friends, one group is making sure its kids are learning to give back by performing community service at two different sites.
Community T.E.A.M.S – Teaching, Enriching And Mentoring Students – is a summer enrichment program supported by Academic Achievers, the United Way of York County and the Rock Hill and York school districts.
Dozens of middle schoolers known as the “Falcon Zone” spent Wednesday at Hospice & Community Care in Rock Hill, creating a “Sidewalk Salute” to honor patients at the facility and veterans.
The students began the day by learning about hospitality and what that means to them.
“Being part of a community is showing hospitality to people even that you don’t know,” said Alison Mallard, strategy and relationship development director at Hospice & Community Care.
The theme of the event was “the value of community,” said United Way community impact director Kim Johnson. The goal was to teach the students about the value of giving back and learning from other members of the community, like veterans.
The students spent an hour using chalk to decorate the sidewalks and part of the parking lot of the Hospice & Community Care with messages like “Thank You,” “I’m thinking of you” and “U R Epic,” in addition to images of American flags and other artwork.
“We do this to be kind of nice to (the veterans and hospice patients) and make them feel better,” said Jackson Albowicz, 11.
After decorating and making cards to send to troops overseas, the students sat down for a question-and-answer session with Command Sgt. Major Joe Medlin, who recently returned from a nine-month tour of Afghanistan with the National Guard’s 178th Combat Engineers.
Medlin politely answered as the students asked him about Afghanistan – “How was the food?” “What weapons did you use?”
“What I need from you guys is leaders,” Medlin said, encouraging the students to do what was right when everyone else was doing what was wrong.
Activities like the Sidewalk Salute and meeting veterans are good for kids, Medlin said, because less than one percent of the American population serves in the military, and it lets the students put a face to the name.
“This is important,” he said, “not only to the kids, but to veterans as well to go out and tell their stories.”
Gabrielle Reed, 11, said it was important to honor veterans because of the sacrifices they make when they leave their friends and families to go to war.
“They do this for us and they might give their lives for us,” she said.
Before Medlin left, the Falcon Zone presented him with a 60-foot chain of paper rings. The students had written encouraging messages for soldiers on each ring. Medlin assured them he would send it to the National Guard’s 122nd Engineer Battalion, which is currently deployed in Afghanistan. The 122nd is based in Edgefield.
While the Falcon Zone spent their day at Hospice & Community Care, another group of students from the program, the “Cougar Club,” worked with the York County Council on Aging, spending time with elderly people, interviewing them about their lives and participating in activities.