VUHS seniors give back to their communities

VERGENNES — Early on a recent morning, Vergennes Union High School seniors spread out across northwestern Addison County to complete a day’s worth of community service.
VUHS faculty member Lee Shorey, who has helped plan each service day since the start of the tradition, said that these service days began years ago as a way to get seniors out of the classroom and into the community during standardized testing days for younger students.
Freshmen and juniors would get snacks to honor their efforts by taking the tests seriously because good scores helped the school, while sophomores and seniors would leave the campus.
“Service days were an idea I presented to a teacher leadership group many years ago when the school had three days of NECAP testing,” Shorey said. “I would organize the seniors in several communities on service work sites and the sophomores would visit the state community colleges.”
Single service days for the senior class have since become a tradition, according to senior class officer Dylan Rapoport.
“Lee Shorey thought of this great idea of giving back to the community that helped raise us and put us through the last 12 years of public schooling. We all sort of fell in love with the idea,” he said.
CIARA MCCLAY, LEFT, Lillian Goodyear and Cooper O’Brien cleaned the ambulance and repainted the bathroom at the Vergennes Area Rescue Squad for VUHS senior service day. Photo by Dylan Rapoport
But Rapoport said this year’s service day — May 2 — was especially challenging to plan after two of the class’s intended projects fell through.
“We originally tried to go up to Camp Ta-Kum-Ta, as classes have done in the past, but that did not work out. Then we tried to do it at Zeno Mountain Farm, the location of our walk-a-thon, but that also did not work out,” Rapoport said.
Instead, the class divided into several groups and scattered throughout the area for the day. The service projects were made up of both indoor and outdoor work, Rapoport said.
“We’re doing projects like raking mulch at the Vergennes elementary school and volunteering at local businesses to help with spring cleaning activities. We have people going to the John Graham Shelter to help out there as well,” he said. “It’s taking place all over the local area, from Vergennes to Panton to Ferrisburgh.”
VERGENNES SENIORS PERFORMED some outdoor site work at Evergreen Preschool as a way to give back to their community. Pictured, left to right, are Maddy Smith, Emma Bryant, Caitlin Walsh, Cedar Winslow and Bess Gramling. Photo by Dylan Rapoport
One of these groups was made up of six Evergreen Preschool alumni. In between meeting and playing with the current preschool students, the group completed various outdoor and indoor work at the Vergennes preschool and Vergennes Congregational Church.
Senior Bess Gramling said that the opportunity to give back to Evergreen was a meaningful experience for the group.
“I got to connect with the place that began my education and give back to the place that gave me so much love and learning as a kid,” she said.
Another group of seniors placed flags at the graves of local veterans, preparing a North Ferrisburgh cemetery for Memorial Day.
Roberta “Cookie Step” Steponaitis, the group’s advisor and former VUHS faculty member, said that the work done at the cemetery is a way for the community to remember local veterans.
“Most people associate Memorial Day with the parade and the fun. This is the solemn part, the remembrance part, and we (The American Legion) are just very appreciative that members of the community, of all ages, take time to participate,” Steponaitis said.
A third group of seniors volunteered at the Vergennes Area Rescue Squad, repainting bathrooms and cleaning the ambulance. Among them was Lillian Goodyear, a VUHS senior who regularly volunteers on the rescue squad.
Goodyear said that the service day was special due to the ties she has to VARS.
“I have been a part of Vergennes Rescue for over a year now. I spend a little over a day here every month, helping out the community,” Goodyear said. “It’s fun to be a part of the school and to get to do this with them today.”
HOLDEN CLARK, BACK, Wade Mullin and Kael Dobson were among the VUHS seniors performing community service at the Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburgh on May 2. Photo by Dylan Rapoport
Shorey said seeing connections between high school seniors and community members, like that of Goodyear’s, offers her the biggest benefit of putting together each service day.
“An example of the hidden treasures I value which have happened during these service days is what was reported to me by this year’s seniors who were working to spread mulch on the VUES playgrounds,” Shorey said.
“When the elementary students came out for recess they were told they could watch the high school seniors work, but could not step on the playground where they were working. One young boy, though, made a point before recess was over to walk up to each senior and shake their hands to say thank you.”
Marin Howell is a VUHS senior who interned with the Independentthis past fall, edits a VUHS student newspaper, and volunteered to write this story.

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