Note: This story appears in the Tuesday, Nov. 26 newspaper on Page A1.
NELSONVILLE — Amidst the rain, wind and general cold, dozens of Athens High School seniors spent their Friday out in the community.
Their placements varied — helping in Athens Middle School classrooms, cleaning up The Plains Library, removing invasive plants in the Wayne National Forest, even sorting hardware at Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore. All of these projects were part of Senior Make a Difference Day, a tradition at Athens High School that allows seniors to venture into their communities and help out.
Two of the projects were in coordination with Rural Action, taking place in the Land Lab behind Morrison-Gordon Elementary school and in the downtown area of Nelsonville. AmeriCorps members as well as Rural Action staff helped guide their student workers on the two projects.
Joe Brehm, environmental education program director at Rural Action, led the project at the Land Lab. Three seniors were on-hand for this project, which was to complete a boardwalk in the wetland.
The walkway had about 20 more feet of decking to be secured down, which the three boys, Sam Carpenter, Jaden Laughlin and Myeong-Yeol Kim, all worked hands-on to complete, in coordination with Brehm and AmeriCorps member Nate Good.
It was wet work — all five of them were knee deep in mud to build the bridge through setting stones in place as a foundation, laying the crossbeams and securing the decking. The mud, Brehm said, was why the school wanted the boardwalk in the first place: to allow students a chance to explore the wetlands without tracking mud all through the school building and annoying the janitorial staff.
Brehm said the project had originally been started by the PTO group, but more groups have been involved over the course of the project.
“I was bringing kids out here and saw it wasn’t finished, so I’ve been bringing volunteer groups here for the last couple of years,” Brehm said. “Just chipping away at it.”
Some of the boys were already trained in such work — Laughlin and Carpenter both explained they had done similar tasks before. Kim said he had as well, but was less experienced.
“I have done this, but I’m not very good at it,” he laughed.
Another group working with Rural Action was stationed near the Public Square in Nelsonville. Four teens joined some Rural Action AmeriCorps members in picking up litter in the area, as well as in putting together no-sew fleece blankets in the afternoon.
The seniors — Alayna Grimm, Hosea Bickley, Brian Johnson and Darian Knapp — were decked out in gear provided by Rural Action’s Zero Waste Program, and had cleaned around the square before proceeding to the city park.
Jenna Balazs, an AmeriCorps member with the Hocking Soil and Water Conservation District, and Megan Almeida, an AmeriCorps member with Zero Waste, were leading the seniors on the project, as well as Shannon Stewart, director of the Ohio Stream Restore Corps program.
“So we are cleaning up Nelsonville, focusing on the square,” Balazs said. “As well as the alleys around the area too. So after about three hours of picking up trash, we’ll have lunch and make some blankets.”
Almeida said it was nice to see younger members of the community “care” about their county.
“In a very technological, social media world, it’s nice to see that people will come out and still take care of their community to help with the beautification,” Almeida agreed.
The seniors said they were interested in this project to help the community and be productive.
“I’ve lived here my whole life, I think I should give back,” Knapp said.
The students agreed that they were having fun with the project despite chilly temperatures.
“You find a lot of interesting things that people decide to leave in the middle of the street — some googly eyes, a shoe,” Grimm said. “The cereal was a really good one.”
Knapp encouraged community members to take pride in their towns and keep it clean.
“When you’re out and about and there’s trash everywhere it’s just kind of nasty,” she said. “Nobody thinks about it or picks stuff up because it’s somebody else’s stuff, but it’s good to get rid of that. Pick up trash, do this, it isn’t hard.”
“Even though we have this gear to make it easy for us to pick this stuff up, I feel people need to go out of their way to do this because it’s a good thing to do,” Grimm agreed. “It’s not hard at all, and it helps out a lot.”