Between 600 and 700 volunteers from U.N.O., area high schools and elsewhere are rolling up their sleeves during fall break to better their community,
Three Days of Service is organized by service learning students at U.N.O., bringing together non-profits that need help with those who want to pitch in. It's Seven Days of Service over spring break. Over the years, those taking part have contributed more than $2 million worth of free labor.
But students do get paid in other ways, explained Kathleen Oleson Lyons, Director of Student Community Leadership & Service. Take Habitat for Humanity, for example, one of the beneficiaries of volunteers' time. The charity benefits by a sped-up construction effort, Days of Service Volunteers typically knocking six months' time off a build.
And Students, Oleson Lyons said, get some great skills in return. "Drywall. They learn how to do some roofing, gardening, painting, all those things they can use for their homes or apartments. Plus, they make friends."
Omaha North High School Engineering Instructor John Vinchattle, whose students have been joining in the effort for years, said another benefit is leadership skills. He's got more than 25 students helping out with renovations of the George Carver Bank Building, 24th & Lake St., during this Three Days of Service.
"We really are excited about this project," he said, "because it's in the north Omaha community." The bank building is being converted, by the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, into cultural center with exhibition and artist space, as well as a Big Mama's Kitchen storefront location.
Senior Erick Hernandez said it feels good to be a part of such a positive change for the community where they live. "Anytime we come around this area town, we'll be able to say we helped out with that project. That was a really fun experience for us."
Most of the students will be working outside, on a landscaping project designed by a U.N.L. architecture student. "I got (put) in charge of pulling down the vines," said Senior Ciera Sanwick.
Sanwick said she was honored to work on a project centered around an historic building, the first African-American owned bank in Nebraska. "I think it's great that we're getting it back in shape and looking well again."
The project is set to be completed in December. The project coordinator with Bemis, Jessica Scheurman, said they couldn't do it without the community's help. And this most recent service effort, she said, "shows anyone can get involved regardless of their age."
Oleson Lyons added, what students are learning will last way beyond their school years. Many service volunteers have moved into lengthier volunteer roles with the organizations they've helped out. "We're building citizens for the future," she said.
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