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The Grace of Serving Others

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Class helps seventh, eighth graders learn while serving community needs

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: KRISTOLE JUKER - Students in Estacada Middle Schools service learning class listen as Jeanne Flohr shares a story. The students visit Grace Place each Thursday.

Every Thursday, a group of students from Estacada Middle School spends time visiting with residents at Grace Place Senior Living.

"The teenagers are fabulous," said Jeanne Flohr, a resident at Grace Place, 380 N.W. 6th Ave. "They're so attentive and ask really good questions. They have a great interest in the seniors."

The group of 25 seventh and eighth graders visit Grace Place through a new class at the middle school this semester in which they participate in a variety of school-wide and community-based service learning opportunities.

With the guidance of social studies teacher Kristole Juker, students in the service learning class read with kindergarteners through third graders at River Mill Elementary School on Mondays, visit the Estacada Food Bank on Tuesdays, work on projects at the middle school on Wednesdays and visit Grace Place on Thursdays.

Students say they like how the class helps them connect with other people, from younger students to the storytelling residents at Grace Place.

"I like reading (to students) at River Mill, because I struggled with reading when I was younger," said Deacon Erickson, a seventh-grade student in the service learning class.

Erickson added that he also likes getting to know the residents at Grace Place. His favorite part is listening to their stories — particularly those of Flohr.

"She's really cool and nice," he said. "She told us stories about the Great Depression and working in a factory during World War II."

Flohr also enjoys when the students visit.

"They're a great bunch of kids," she said. "Our future country will be great if we have teens like them."

Eighth-grader Katilyn Hawkins said she's inspired by the visits to Grace Place.

"(The residents) talked about staying in school and never give up on your dreams," she said. "One person went back to school at age 50 to become a math teacher."CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: KRISTOLE JUKER - Students in the Estacada Middle School service learning class say they enjoy their weekly visits to River Mill Elementary, in which they read to other students.

When they aren't visiting different locations around town, students stay busy around the middle school. So far, projects have included planning the school's Read Across America Activities, creating banners for staff appreciation week, organizing the school's lost and found and spreading positive messages around the hallways.

Students also appreciate what they've learned in the class. Both Hawkins and Erickson said they feel more informed about the social services available in Estacada.

"(Service learning is) an eye-opener class," she said. "I like going to the Yellow House. I didn't know anything about it before, but they volunteer their time and work hard to keep things up there."

A variety of services are available at the Yellow House, including clothes at low prices through the thrift store. Additionally, the store provides financial assistance for bills such as rent and electricity on a case-by-case basis.

"It helps the community a lot," Hawkins said.

Erickson added that he believes the food bank is one of the most valuable resources in town. "Everyone under a certain income gets food for their families," he said. "People live off that food. It's super helpful."

What students learn while they're in the community helps them in the classroom in numerous ways.

"If I had to write a paper about the Great Depression, I would try to talk to Jeanne," Erickson said. "She would be a good primary source."

Flohr also believes the stories from the 30 years she and her husband worked at rescue missions for the homeless in California are interesting to the students. She believes the inspiration helps them make connections to what they're learning about now, including homelessness and the importance of social services.

Hawkins and Erickson encouraged any students interested in signing up for the service learning class to do so.

"If you're thinking about doing it, do it," Hawkins said. "It's a great way to help the community."

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