By LOIS KINDLE
Students from several area high schools provided much-needed assistance to the Firehouse Cultural Center Dec. 21, 22, 28 and 29.
Spruce It Up was an opportunity for teen volunteers to earn community service hours needed to qualify for Florida Bright Futures scholarships. The students painted the inside walls of the Firehouse Studio building, catalogued equipment and organized art supplies, cleaned and reorganized storage sheds and other spaces, performed a variety of landscaping duties and entered data.
“With our small staff, we could have never accomplished a third of what they did, and it would have taken us twice as long,” said Beth Stein, Firehouse Cultural Center programs manager. “In addition to being an opportunity for the students to earn community service hours, the event was also a great social opportunity. Many of those who helped us attended the same school.”
Teens who volunteer recommend such experience.
East Bay High School junior Lauren Mercer, 16, volunteered for Spruce It Up with her twin brothers, Ryan and Nick, by performing a variety of organizational duties. She’s been earning community service hours throughout the area since the summer before ninth grade.
“It’s important to start earning your hours early and be proactive in getting them,” she said as a tip to students who might be thinking about getting involved. “I really enjoy volunteering. It makes high school more fun, helps the community and gives me a better chance of getting a Bright Futures scholarship.”
Seventeen-year-old Lennard High School junior Rigoberto Andres began volunteering at the Firehouse last month, and he mostly painted and did yard work during the event.
“It’s fun, and you learn many useful skills,” he said. “I’m doing this to help others and also to earn community service hours. I definitely recommend it to people my age.”
Kat O’Hair, 17, a senior at Lennard High School, has volunteered at the Firehouse Cultural Center for three years and earned roughly 300 hours.
“I don’t do this strictly for the scholarship,” she said. “It’s really more for the experience. For me, it’s about learning social skills and communicating with people, taking responsibility and making an impact. And if you’re thinking about college, it’s a great opportunity.”
Whether or not a student wants to apply for a Florida Bright Futures scholarship, most colleges like to see volunteer hours on a student resume.
And since most parents need some sort of financial help, their kids’ earning them is a good idea.
“It looks good,” said Mary Kelley, Lennard High School college and career counselor. “A lot of other scholarships don’t require community service hours, but they like to see them.”
But for Florida Bright Futures scholarships, they’re a must.
There are three levels of these scholarships: Florida Academic, Florida Medallion and Florida Gold Seal. Each has specific award amounts and qualification criteria, including GPA, core classes, service hours and test scores. More information is available by visiting www.floridastudentfinancialaidsg.org, and then
clicking on Bright Futures Scholarship Grant Programs.
Students who want to sign up to do community service should contact their high school’s college and career counselor. Lennard uses a new, online program for them to apply, request an organization to volunteer for and then seek approval. Many Lennard students currently volunteer at nonprofit organizations, including the Firehouse Cultural Center, Critter Adoption and Rescue Effort no-kill animal shelter and Ruskin Woman’s Club. Other beneficiaries include the SouthShore Chamber of Commerce, SouthShore Regional Library, Ruskin Elementary School and My Warrior’s Place.
“There are tons more,” Kelley said. “During the Christmas holidays, we had students helping out Metropolitan Ministries and Feeding Tampa Bay. We’ve also had them participate in events like the local Walk to End Alzheimer’s.
Additionally, students can get credit for hours they work on behalf of school organizations like the JROTC and Key Club.
The nice thing about volunteering for nonprofits is they usually offer great flexibility.
“Student volunteers can work as few or as many hours as they want, and they can generally choose to do whatever interests them, if we have work available,” said Frances Hereford, volunteer coordinator for the Firehouse Cultural Center. “If not, I try to find another organization that could use their help.”