Celebrating Virtual School Student Volunteers
They’ve rescued aging greyhounds, restored local ecosystems, supported our veterans, comforted the homeless, and fed the hungry. From Ohio to California, Connections Academy student volunteers spent countless hours this year supporting causes that touched their hearts and communities.
In honor of National Volunteer Week (April 10–16), we are sharing a few of their stories using #CheersforCAVolunteers and are inviting you to raise a collective cheer for all our student volunteers.
Protecting the Powerless
- When allergies prevented her from volunteering at a local dog shelter, Ohio Connections Academy (OCA) eighth-grader volunteer Jessica Nichols found another way to help. Launching Madison Pride for Pups, she sold bracelets with local school colors every weekend during football season to raise funds for the shelter.
- Katherine Withington, another OCA eighth-grader, exercised and cared for abused horses at the Angel Haven Horse Rescue. She also shared her skills and caring spirit with younger children as a volunteer counselor at horse camps.
- Arizona Connections Academy (ACA) student Thomas Szczepaniak wanted to help shelter animals stay cool during hot Arizona summers. So he spent six months gathering materials, equipment, and skilled volunteers to construct a new shade structure at the Town of Parker/La Paz County Animal Shelter. His hard work helped him attain the rank of Eagle Scout, an honor earned by only a small percentage of Boy Scouts.
- When racing greyhounds grow too old to race, the sleek, beautiful animals are often euthanized or sold for lab experiments. So Jake Dzyak, a Nevada Connections Academy (NCA) student, didn’t stop with merely adopting two ex–racing dogs. He helped raised awareness and funds for Nevada Greyhounds Unlimited, a nonprofit dedicated to saving greyhounds through adoption. (Unleashing his own inner canine, Jake also appeared as “Sparky the Fire Dog” at local events promoting fire prevention.) These and other accomplishments helped Jake earn his rank of Eagle Scout.
Feeding the Hungry; Comforting the Homeless
Whether working together or on their own, Connections Academy students sought to ease the suffering of the hungry and the homeless.
- At MTS Minnesota Connections Academy (MTSMCA), students and their families teamed up to pack specially formulated meals to feed starving children in the Dominican Republic. In less than two hours, the volunteers packed 30,240 meals—enough to feed 83 children for a year. Students Abigail Thelen, Valerie Hultgren, and Abby Meyer, and their mothers, participated in the volunteer stint organized by the MTSMCA Student Council.
- OCA senior Ashley Buchanan launched her own personal effort to help the homeless in her community. Soliciting friends, family, and neighbors, she filled ten backpacks with much-needed supplies to make life on the street a little less stark.
- Following in his family’s footsteps, Colorado Connections Academy student and sixth-generation farmer Joshua Crawford worked in a community garden started by his mother. Last year, Josh says, that garden produced over 2,000 pounds of vegetables, which were given away to the community.
Sharing Their Talents and Interests
With varied talents and interests to share, Connections Academy student volunteers each found their own way to make a difference.
- As a volunteer with Stagecrafters Broadway Buddies, OCA sophomore Emily Fields Gavorski helped youth with intellectual differences develop their own talents in musical theater. Check out this video to see how much volunteers like Emily mean to these special kids.
- Oregon Connections Academy (ORCA) junior Josiah “Ziah” Foster leveraged his scouting skills and the flexibility of online schooling to restore a local ecosystem damaged by fire. Raising money and leading a crew of 30 volunteers, Ziah removed invasive species and planted trees to prevent soil erosion and protect wildlife on Government Island along the Columbia River. His work helped him earn his rank as Eagle Scout.
- As a U.S. Naval Sea Cadet, OCA seventh-grader Benjamin Montgomery found multiple opportunities to support our nation’s veterans. Over the last year, he has painted benches at the local VA hospital, placed American flags at the Lexington National Cemetery in Kentucky, and cleared land for a retreat for veterans and their families.
Sharing Their Love of Reading
When students love to read, they also like to share that gift with others. And when they discover that other kids don’t have books, they do something about it.
- As OCA sixth-grader Alex Rose explains, “I’m lucky because my mom always had a lot of books for me, but not everyone has books at their house.” So Alex raised money and asked for book donations, bought and renovated a small structure, gained the necessary local approvals, and set up his own branch of the Little Free Library in his hometown. (The Little Free Library is a worldwide movement that encourages ordinary citizens to set up tiny libraries in their front yards or local neighborhoods. The libraries are about the size of a public mailbox. There are 36,000 registered Little Free Libraries in 50 states and 70 countries. Check out this video to learn how to start your own Little Free Library.)As of February, Alex’s library had distributed almost 750 books, along with “I love reading” backpacks to carry those books—earning him both a Prudential Spirit Award and the President’s Volunteer Service Award.
- Inspired by an encounter with a girl who had no books at home, Capistrano Connections Academy student Gabe Eggerling founded his own nonprofit, Mission: HERO, Helping Everyone Read Out Loud. Over the last several years, Gabe’s organization has donated thousands of books to low-income kids in Southern California and to libraries outside the United States.
Giving and Gaining
Ask any of our student volunteers and they will probably tell you they gained as much as they gave. As Gabe said in his 2013 TEDx talk, “I think kids are like tiny ripples in the ocean. And if you tell an idea to one of them you can create an enormous wave or tsunami. … I’ve learned entrepreneurial skills, like how to raise money, go after grants, and ask for tons of help. I’m working with cool people with big hearts. … The power [to help others] is in all of us. We just have to find our special skills and decide to share them.”
So during National Volunteer Week, let’s cheer for all those tiny ripples and support their causes! If you have an inspiring story about your Connections Academy student, please share it on Twitter and Facebook using #CheersforCAVolunteers, or in the comments.