Students and volunteers help 158 homeowners
By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
Bunny Tabatt of Little Falls said she cried when the team of Little Falls Community High School (LFCHS) students visited her home Wednesday.
The tears were tears of joy, as they cleaned her yard during the third annual Day of Caring.
“I could never ever do what they did – I could never have my yard so clean,” she said.
Tabatt, who is blind, said everyone that comes says it is magnificent. “My flower beds have never looked so good,” she said. “I was a little embarrassed because some of it was so shabby — they did such a marvelous job and they had so much fun doing it.
The students were laughing, joking and teasing, Tabatt said. “I could feel their energy — the energy was just alive. I told them I am so glad there are people like them in my world. They were wonderful,” she said.
Not far from Tabatt’s home, at the Jim and Delores Witucki home, students did yard work that would never have been done this year.
It’s been stressful at the Witucki home, since Jim is in a nursing home.
The couple’s daughter, Penny Witucki, is staying with her mom while her dad is in the nursing home.
“We really appreciate this,” she said. “It’s hard with mom at the nursing home taking care of dad. It’s a lot of stress.”
Kristen Saehr, a junior working on the team at the Witucki home was celebrating her 17th birthday. “It’s the best way to celebrate my birthday, helping other people,” she said.
Junior Taylor Axel said helping others made her feel “good about myself.”
Still another homeowner, Annette Zimmerman, said the students and teachers on the team at her house, “Did a wonderful job.
“They were so polite and friendly and they wanted to do more than what I had planned for them,” she said. “They even offered to wash my windows. I’m so grateful for the Day of Caring.”
The Day of Caring is typically held the first Wednesday in May, but was set back a few weeks when winter snows wouldn’t subside.
Although in its third year, the Day of Caring was born four years ago, when LFCHS Principal Tim Bjorge traveled to Detroit Lakes for a similar event. Mary Kenna, with the Healthy Communities Collaborative (HCC), was brought on board having had experience with a similar event Fargo Moorhead.
Kenna said the HCC, school district and Student Council work with representatives from a dozen organizations to plan the Day of Caring. The planning takes several months, gathering information from homeowners, assessing their needs and building a database for the work orders.
Then comes organizing 1,029 volunteers who put in a total of 3,087 hours Wednesday. The 67 student teams, made up of 10 – 12 students, had one, if not two, district adult volunteers or a volunteer from Camp Ripley.
In addition to 158 homes, the volunteers worked at 12 different city parks — one in Randall and 11 in Little Falls.
“I think it’s gotten better every year,” said Bjorge. “We’ve also been blessed to have almost perfect weather every year.”
Bjorge said he feels the Day of Caring is becoming a yearly event embedded in the community.
“Our goal from the get-go was that this wouldn’t be seen as a high school event, but a community event,” he said.
“We want the students to have an opportunity to experience what it is to give back to their community,” he said. “To help our elderly and disabled in our community certainly sends the right message.”
More than 60 sponsors including businesses, nonprofits and individuals offered financial and in-kind donations, such as donated employee time, from area businesses.
Bjorge said sponsorship support has nearly tripled since the first year. Businesses are sending their employees to volunteer, a trend he hopes continues.
Every staff member at LFCHS is involved in some way that day.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the students or the staff of how they just embrace this community service project,” said Bjorge. Without them the project would not be possible.
“It’s a lot more than just raking leaves,” Kenna said. Staff volunteers do everything from grilling outside, serving lunch and delivering more trash bags to sites. “There’s a tremendous amount of work,” she said.
Supt. Stephen Jones experienced his first Day of Caring in Little Falls.
“It was awesome — what a day. I was privileged enough to have my own group, out with the kids,” he said. “It was just unbelievable satisfaction on the faces of the kids as they were thanked — and shown gratitude by the house-owners for the things they were doing.”
Jones said when he met with his group the first thing in the morning, one student said, “Well Mr. Jones, are you ready for the best day of school?”
“That’s pretty cool,” he said.
Bjorge said attendance was the second highest of the year. “It’s the best attendance day we’ve had, other than the day we handed out the iPads,” he said. “That’s a great credit and tribute to our kids.”
Jones said it shows how the students feel about helping others, since they could have just as easily stayed home.
Homeowners, said Jones, had treats and snacks for the kids and many were outside interacting with the students.
“Not many things are better than that in terms of connecting the community with school,” said Jones.
“Not that I had any expectations for the day, but I could never have imagined it would have been like this,” he said.