Second ‘Day of Caring’ in Little Falls as rewarding as the first

By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
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Little Falls Community High School seniors Whitney Weisz, Jenna Thesing and Annie Ploof were among the nearly 1,000 volunteers

A sea of white T-shirts could be seen throughout the cities of Little Falls and Randall Wednesday, T-shirts worn by nearly 1,000 volunteers. After all, it was the first Wednesday in May, and time for the second annual “Day of Caring.”

The Day of Caring was  introduced to Little Falls by Little Falls Community High School (LFCHS) Principal Tim Bjorge, who had seen a similar event in Detroit Lakes, when he was principal in Wadena. The first Little Falls event was held May 11, 2011.

Students (732) in grades 9 – 12 at LFCHS, as well as staff and adult volunteers from the school (101) and the community (160), spent Wednesday morning cleaning up yards, washing windows and a multitude of other tasks for those who registered.

“It’s the best thing in the whole world,” said Helen Funk. “I couldn’t do this raking. It’s wonderful. I couldn’t wait to find out if they would do it again.”

Along with 116 other homeowners in Little Falls and 10 in Randall, Funk was  the beneficiary of students, community members and organizations coming together to help the elderly and disabled.

Jean Dennis, left, one of the homeowners who benefitted from the Little Falls Community High School Day of Caring event, visited with sophomore Mallory Kenna, one of the students helping clean her yard. “It’s wonderful,” said Jean Dennis, another homeowner. “I hope it continues forever and ever. I applaud Tim Bjorge for what he started. It is the best thing for Little Falls.”

The Day of Caring comes together as the result of a partnership between the LFCHS, Healthy Communities Collaborative (HCC) and community partners.

“LFCHS is the sponsor of the event,” said Mary Kenna, HCC program coordinator. “HCC is one of many key community partners.”

Once the volunteers finished at the homes, they headed out to 14 public properties like Pine Grove Park or Linden Hill in Little Falls and the Bingo Park in Randall, to spruce them up for the public at large.

The 64 teams of students were transported by bus, thanks to Strack Bus and Palmer Bus companies who donated the buses and fuel for the travel. Bus drivers donated their time, even taking off time from their regular jobs to take part.

In addition to the student teams, St. Gabriel’s Hospital, Spectrum Printing and five teams from Camp Ripley came to work.

LFCHS seniors Jessica Hanowski, left, and Alayna Kabanuk tackle one side of Helen Funk's yard.

After the work was done, a picnic lunch, activities and music were held at the high school. Students received their yearbooks, allowing plenty of time to sign each other’s books.

“You could just feel the energy in that building and the sense of accomplishment and pride — it was just a great day,” she said.

“The afternoon was a celebration of our work and our school year,” said Bjorge. Many schools have these celebrations and for Little Falls, “It just made sense to do it on this day,” he said.

Lions Club members, HCC Board members and Minnesota Power personnel manned the grill. Free lunch for the nearly 1,000 volunteers was provided by Chartwell, Minnesota Power and Coborn’s.

Planning for the event began just after Christmas, with a team of community members working with the LFCHS Student Council.

“The community piece has been real intentional,” said Kenna. “Mr. Bjorge has been very good about getting the students to own this — it’s not his project, it’s a community event.”

After the clean-up, Bob LeMieur Rolloffs Refuse and Recycling and City Sanitary Service donated time to pick up the bagged leaves. The city donated the garbage bags and city crews picked up sticks and garbage.

LFCHS seniors Olivia Grams, left, and Michaela Gau tackle another side of Helen Funk’s yard,

About 50 different sponsors and people donated in kind, said Kenna. “You talk about community partners, there are just so many of them — they’re all key people and all have a key role,” she said.

Bjorge said the students worked with a purpose. “They really stepped up and enjoyed visiting with the homeowners and felt a sense of pride about what they had accomplished.”

Full credit was given to the school staff by Bjorge, as well as the Student Council. “Every teacher, every para was involved,” he said. “Our Student Council was responsible for organizing the afternoon activities and put a tremendous amount of work into it.”

Kenna is sure the event will continue. “Talk about life-changing all the way around — whether kids or adults or homeowners,” she said. “We can’t measure the long-term impact. It hits everyone so personally.”