What does community service mean to high school students? One normally expects to hear the descriptions of ‘obligation’ or ‘responsibility.’ However, what if the answer came with a pleasant surprise? What if service to the community also celebrated the rich diversity of a Harbor neighborhood and prompted the desire to do more? The standard theme of giving back during the holidays took on a different and powerful meaning in Wilmington, California.
It happened on Sunday, December 9. Ninety-six students from Banning High School volunteered at the 25th Annual Heart of the Harbor Holiday Parade in Wilmington, and proudly represented all four ITEP-supported academies: GESA, GSS, ITA and MATCH. Wilmington streets filled with floats, marching horses, performers and school/community bands. The festive ensemble traveled through Avalon Boulevard, from ‘E’ to ‘M’ Street and included several ITEP students who walked in the parade with their academy banners and those from various sponsors. Meanwhile, GSS monitored the parade crowd and several GESA students provided snacks to volunteers.
For Julia, 11th grader and GSS student, participating in the Wilmington Parade gave her the opportunity to share her pride for her program. “It means a lot to me because it’s the first year I’m in GSS, and it’s great to help the community. I like the program. I would tell my peers and younger people to volunteer because you will have those memories that you did something good for the community and made it better.”
11th grader and ITA student, Flor defined community service as a way to give back on the front end while learning professional skills for the future. “Community service means giving back and being in front of the community. It’s a good thing – you learn how to approach different people and how to act professionally.”
Of course, there was also the mention of community pride. “Being proud of your community is also a part of community service. Don’t just think of community service as a physical activity.”
“It’s better to give than to receive. We all cooperate to let people know that we can make a change. We need to fix the world – organize and clean the planet so we can start doing bigger things,” stated Luis, 12th grader and GESA student who definitely placed an environmental focus on his answer of what community service means to him.
Luis also opened up about the opportunities GESA and volunteering has provided. “You see the world in a different perspective. You also learn to talk to people. I was very timid at first, but then I ran for VP of the GESA academy and won. This year, I was elected as president.
Later in the parade, we caught up with Luis who was riding a skateboard with another GESA student. They laughed and joked as they approached the start line of the parade with their GESA banner – just another set of ordinary teenagers, full of heart and very capable of accomplishing great things. Community service didn’t end here. These students have more to explore and offer. It’s up to us to not just follow their lead, but keep them strong and motivated.