Stepping out of school into the broader community, a group of middle school leaders discovered satisfying reward in service to others.

Union Grove Middle School sent 180 students representing six campus organizations to 14 nonprofit sites Wednesday for about three hours of community service.

The young volunteers folded and sorted clothes, cleaned floors, windows and bathrooms, shelved books, tidied up gravesites and read to children, among other tasks.

Teachers Connie Cox and Keri Luepke hatched the service idea a year ago, and the response was so overwhelming that the organization sponsors for six participating clubs decided to organize the event twice a year.

Union Grove students represented AVID, Junior Student 2 Student, Student Council, Technology Club, National Junior Honor Society and the Grizzly Groundskeepers.

While the regular service days help students compile required volunteer hours for their service groups, the effects of their work goes much deeper.

“It’s an opportunity for them to get their service hours and it’s a chance to give back to the community,” said Luepke, a math and AVID teacher. She worked alongside students at the Salvation Army thrift store on Rancier Avenue.

“We were surprised how much they enjoyed it,” she said, referencing the two previous service days last spring and in December. “It’s cleaning bathrooms and laundry rooms and they are willing to give back. They return to school talking about it and they want to do it again.”

Eighth-grader Andre Figueroa was one of those doing it again. “I like to give back to people. In JS2S we help students new to our school. This is a lot of work, but people need it.”

A half dozen middle school students labored in the thrift store warehouse with their teacher, sorting bags of donated clothing from a massive stack. Other students worked in the store, shelving items and cleaning windows.

“I think it’s cool,” said eighth-grader Daniel Goldberg. “It’s a good opportunity to help the community and it’s fun. There is a lot of work to do.”

“We do it to help the environment and to help people around us,” said eighth-grader Fallon Pons. “It’s fun and it’s for a good cause.”

Students also volunteered at four Killeen Independent School District elementary schools, four Headstart locations, Emancipet, the Friends in Crisis homeless shelter, the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery, Habitat for Humanity and the Harker Heights Public Library.

Union Grove attendance secretary Emily Jimenez worked with students at the library. “It’s fantastic for kids to volunteer and help the community,” she said. “You don’t realize what happens behind the scenes here. They all come wanting to help. They’re enjoying themselves.”

The nonprofit organization leaders praised the students and invited more volunteers to pitch in.

“We thrive on volunteers,” said Salvation Army Corps Officer Maj. David Craddock. “This gives them exposure to good work ethic and job experience. They can give back to the community and it’s not a lot of time.”

The thrift store, he said, can always use volunteers, including those willing to sort clothes and price donated goods.

Rose Ramon, teen volunteer coordinator at the Harker Heights library, said she would likely use at least 45 teen volunteers this summer. Those interested who are 12 and older must fill out an application and have parent permission.

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