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West Linn, Wilsonville, Lake Oswego students give back to their communities

MONKEWICZMost people have heard the Irish legend that Leprechauns bury their pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. But the bitter magic of this ageless myth is that you will never find the gold because it is impossible to get to the end of the rainbow, after all.

Sometimes the hope that's associated with that rainbow can feel just as illusive, but the Student Writers Advisory Group (SWAG) is offering us a moment that feelslike scooping up a handful of gold. Because these kids care. A few of them care enough to volunteer for people who really need their help, such as Lakeridge High's Claire Petersen, who volunteers in the name of Holocaust remembrance, Lake Oswego High's Erica Chiang, who supports the homeless, and Lake Oswego's Lauren Monkewicz, an Oregon Food Bank volunteer.

Here's what local students had to say about giving back:

A new levity in my heart

By Lauren Monkewicz

The first time I went to the Oregon Food Bank to package food for the less fortunate, the only thing I was concerned about at the start of the trip was how my hair looked in the plastic cap. I was in seventh grade, and my entire leadership class had piled on a bus to learn more about giving back to the community.

At the time, I knew it was important to help others, and I respected people who did, but it was never really something I did often, and I had no idea the impact it truly had — on both myself and others. It wasn't until I left the Food Bank that day that I understood. For the first time ever, I felt a new levity in my heart. I felt the pure joy of knowing that just a few spare hours of my time helped make difference for a lot of people.

That day, I finally understood the innate allure of lending a hand to someone else. We're all drawn to upstanding neighborhood figures, whether they're heroes flying around in crimson capes, or firefighters rushing to combat a blaze, and we idolize such leaders in our community. Little did I know that stepping up and making a difference in the lives of others could have such an impact. As cliched as it sounds — every bit truly does help.

For me, community service is something that's not only allowed me to help others, but it's helped me grow and develop as an individual. That trip to the Food Bank led me to the Philanthropy Club at my high school, where I've done everything from ripping invasive ivy off trees to raising money for terminally ill children. One of the most amazing things about service is that no matter how diverse, how big or small the job is, it always makes a positive impact, and it's always worth it.

Recently, I went back to the Oregon Food Bank, and time and time again, it's clear that there's no better way to spend an afternoon than dedicating it to improving the lives of others.

Lauren Monkewicz is a junior at Lakeridge High School.

Finding hope

By Erica Chiang

CHIANGOne of the most rewarding experiences I've had was as a volunteer with Kids First Project at Portland Homeless Family Solutions (PHFS).

This amazing organization gives temporary housing for families while providing classes to help parents learn life skills and get back into housing. I became involved by tutoring a young girl who was struggling with math. While her mom worked to regain housing for their family, she asked me to help her daughter prepare for fifth-grade math. I was excited by the challenge because I have always loved math and looked forward to using some creativity in a subject I really enjoy to help her succeed. The girl I was tutoring had never developed a strong foundation in fundamental areas of math, but no one had ever noticed enough to take a step back rather than plowing forward. Although her mom asked me to help her with "multiplying two-digit numbers together," it became clear while working through problems that she had gaps in her knowledge and wasn't even comfortable with single-digit addition. I ended up making my own "curriculum" in an attempt to catch her up, which took many tries to adjust to her learning style.

I struggled to keep her attention and to teach her these basic skills, yet she was finally able to do some more complicated addition problems and simple multiplication problems. As we prepared to finally tackle two-digit multiplication, her mom let me know she had successfully gotten a job and a new home for their family and would be moving out of the Family Center where I was giving lessons.

At first, I wasn't sure whether she would be able to apply the skills we work on together. I now feel hopeful that the foundation she has, much like the life skills and support PHFS have provided for her mother, will help her succeed rather than struggle in her future math classes.

This experience has truly highlighted for me something I've always been taught — that education is a privilege that we often take for granted and is so important to pass on to others if there is an opportunity.

Erica Chiang is a sophomore at Lake Oswego High School.

A voice for those who've been silenced

By Claire Petersen

PETERSENA butterfly. A symbol of freedom that represents life and hope. Thoughts that ran through my mind as I applied paint to a ceramic butterfly, designed to represent a child who died in the Holocaust.

During spring break, I volunteered at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center in Portland to help speak for those who no longer have a voice. The Butterfly Project is a national holocaust remembrance of the 1.5 million children who died in the genocide, inspired by the poem "The Butterfly" by Pavel Friedmann, who died at Auschwitz.

Only 100,000 Holocaust survivors are still alive today to remind us of the dangers of the hate and bigotry that took place in those days. When all the survivors pass away, who will speak up about the horrors of what they endured? People forget the past, unaware it often repeats itself in the future. Joining this national event to learn and paint a part of a memorial is a small gesture, yet I realized these million small gestures add up.

We teens are connecting the generations to help keep the history alive. As I added color to the butterfly, I started to think about our current world. There's an attempt to bar the doors of our country to people escaping brutality in their countries. In Syria, at least 30 of the more than 80 people who were killed were children in a chemical attack perpetrated by their own government. At the Remembrance Project, each teen received a card with a picture of a child who perished in the Holocaust. I wondered how there could be so much hatred in our world that children are still killed for their community's beliefs.

Volunteering on this project helped me think more deeply about the need for my generation to keep the past alive, and fight against its recurrence in the world. It's our responsibility to give life and hope to the butterfly, those people who are being persecuted.

Claire Petersen is a sophomore at Lakeridge High School.

Become less self-obsessed

Kaleigh Henderson

HENDERSONThe world has become obsessed with itself. No one cares about anyone else anymore.

Teenagers with phones full of pictures of themselves. Adults forgetting basic manners and respect. Little kids throwing huge fits the moment they don't get their way. The people who do go out of their way to help others get ignored or mocked or yelled at. It needs to stop. We need each other to survive, and those relationships are dying.

A few times a month, I make a point to volunteer somewhere. I need to step away from my personal bubble of "I want" and look at things from another's perspective. It provides a chance to be the best person you can be, and to see what you have that others don't. It makes you appreciate life and feel good about yourself.

Earlier this month, I volunteered at the West Linn Public Library. Although it was fun, I thought about who I was impacting, who I helped. The librarians, who work hard every day to supply kids and adults with a safe space to read and be. The parents, who are raising their children, the future of society. The kids, who are just learning their place in the vast world and need positive guidance and good friends outside of home. I slept well that night, thinking better about myself and about my place in the world.

I've heard people say, "I'm too (tired, old, young, cool, etc, etc) to volunteer." Well, there is no such thing as "too" in volunteering. If you're too old, volunteer at a school. If you're too young, try a senior center. If you're too tired or too "cool" for volunteering, get a different mindset and come back when you're not thinking of yourself.

Even if you honestly don't have time to actually volunteer, you can still make a difference going about your everyday life. Open a door for someone with full arms. Help a lost kid find their way home. Pay a compliment to someone on the street. It doesn't have to be a lot. Volunteering is about the people you help, and they don't care who you are. You can make a difference, but only if you try to. The world isn't going to change itself. You have to step away from your bubble of "I want" and instead think "they need." Because believe it or not, they need you.

Kaleigh Henderson is a freshman at West Linn High School.

Reaching Out to Meet the Need

By Rebekah Pinoli

PINOLII recently volunteered for Northwest Children's Outreach center at the Rolling Hills Church in Tualatin.

The volunteer-run organization collects and distributes donated resources for impoverished children, including refugees and children who are being placed into foster homes by DHS. NCO started when a woman named Carolyn Quatier heard about a mother who had to choose between food and diapers for her baby. The mother chose to buy food, which meant her baby wore the same diaper for a few days, resulting in an infection. This confirmed to Quatier that there was a desperate need in the community, so she started collecting goods in her garage. Her organization now has six locations in Oregon and Washington, serving 400 care-provider agencies. In 2016, NCO served 35,098 children, added 16,979 new children to support, had 14,552 clothing bags distributed, and 260,000 diapers given.

When I volunteered, I was impressed by how organized the center is. Each volunteer is given a bag that lists all the requirements for a specific child, such as shirts, shoes, jackets, toys, and books. The shelves are neatly stacked and labeled with everything you need, and the best part is choosing out outfits for the kids. After the items are collected the bags are sealed and put on a shelf, ready for the case workers to pick up the items. It was an uplifting experience to play a small part in helping children in need.

I highly recommend taking the time to volunteer at the center. NCO is volunteer and family friendly, and has special fundraising drives for winter coats, back-to-school supplies, and cribs, so babies don't have to sleep on the floor. Information about volunteering and seasonal drives can be found on their website, http://northwestchildrensoutreach.org.

Rebekah Pinoli is a junior at Wilsonville High School.

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