There was nothing to keep the teens from staying under their warm covers on a perfectly chilly October morning.
But instead of hitting the snooze button and catching an extra couple hours of sleep, 325 SM East seniors — approximately 83 percent of the graduating class — started checking in outside the school’s gymnasiums, organizing for a day of volunteering. Soon, the students piled on to buses to head to project sites throughout the Kansas City area. SM East’s second SHARE Senior Service Day was about to get under way.
“I love seeing the kids show up in mass early in the morning, ready to mobilize to help in our community,” said SHARE sponsor Krissy Wiggins. “There’s an energy there. They could be sleeping in, but maybe deep inside there’s a greater yearning to do something meaningful.”
One of the only student-led volunteer programs at a high school in the country, SHARE volunteers give more than 25,000 hours of their time each year. Last year, the group decided to organize a special day of action for seniors on the day when juniors and underclassmen were scheduled to take the PSAT. After volunteering all morning and into the early afternoon, all the participants gathered a Harmon Park for a class picnic. The day was a hit, and word got around. Participation among seniors jumped more than 20 percent from the first year to this year.
“It’s something that kind of sets East apart,” said senior Charlie Jensen, one of the SHARE execs. “Last year it was a huge success, and people had a lot of fun doing it.”
Many of the students participating in yesterday’s activities, in which students volunteered at 21 project sites throughout the metro, had been involved in SHARE programs throughout high school and say the program provided some of their strongest high school memories.
Senior Katie Lamar, now a SHARE exec, said working with elementary school students through the Small Buddies tutoring program had helped shape her perspective on the importance of volunteering. Earlier this year Lamar worked with a young student who had been struggling with his reading and writing for a year. The boy’s teacher recently pulled her aside and told her that her work with him seemed to have inspired a turnaround.
“She said, ‘He’s doing so much better since you came, he’s so excited to see you, you’ve made such a big impact,'” she said. “It’s so cool to know that even though it’s just 30 minutes to an hour once every two weeks, you make a difference.”
Wiggins said stories like that show the effect SHARE can have not only on the lives of the people who benefit from the volunteer work, but on the volunteers themselves.
“I…love hearing their feedback when they return,” said Wiggins. “Some of the projects make quite an impression. Maybe they’ve experienced one moment in their morning that will lead to a lifetime habit of serving. That’s the goal anyway.”