In GEAR UP program, Everett students both learn and serve

EVERETT — Christie Luttrell wants to be a psychologist, Patrice Burnett hopes to be a veterinarian and Tia-Monette Johnson aims to go into fashion design. Henrik Kiaer plans to join the Navy and Chase Noble wants to go to the DigiPen Institute of Technology. Austin Gergich has his sights set on the music program at the University of Oregon.

But this summer, the six 10th-graders from Everett High School served lunches, organized storage rooms and refinished wooden furniture at the Carl Gipson Senior Center.

They are one of four groups participating in the high school’s GEAR UP program, a grant-funded community service and college preparation course that helps students learn while serving their communities.

“I realized the students really wanted to volunteer but didn’t know how to get started,” teacher Theresa Kemp said. “What I was hoping was we could make a connection and they could continue volunteering.”

So far, it’s working. Most of the students are volunteering extra hours, and some plan to continue volunteering during the school year.

The GEAR UP volunteer hours are not part of high school graduation requirements, Kemp said. The course is about pushing students to go above and beyond.

There are 24 students in the class. During the summer, groups of five or six spend one day a week volunteering around Everett. Along with the senior center, students volunteer at the Imagine Children’s Museum, YMCA and Full Life Care.

Most of the GEAR UP students are from low-income families and would be the first in their family to attend college. Kemp said a sense of community and appreciation for service are important pieces of their education.

“I think it’s the highlight of all of their weeks,” she said.

Kiaer said he wanted to volunteer at the senior center in the summer, and the class gave him the perfect opportunity. He’s done volunteer work in the past and enjoys it.

Johnson said helping out at the senior center is fun. Though she’d like to be able to talk with more of the people at the center, she said all of them have been nice.

“I like serving them lunch because then I get to see all their faces,” she said.

The lunch service is a pleasant surprise for some of the seniors, who are used to waiting in line for their meals. Wednesday is the only day of the week they get waited on, with the six students bringing taco salads, milk and fruit bowls to more than 50 people.

After cleaning up some of the dishes after a recent lunch, the teens split into two smaller groups. Half of them headed outside to refinish wooden furniture for the senior center, and half went downstairs to start organizing a storage room jammed with books, more furniture, and medical supplies.

Shirley Gilday, who has been volunteering at the senior center for several years, said she appreciated the extra hands this summer.

“It’s been thrilling having the kids here,” she said. “They do such a fabulous job, and they like it, too.”

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