Miraculously, a clear sky dawned Monday, May 21, providing some 520 high school students from the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and the Charter School, along with some 50 faculty members, bus drivers, and five parent/school committee volunteers, glorious weather for the first-ever Islanders Give Back Day. This entire cohort, often quite literally, put their backs into service projects at some 40 organizations, including farms, beaches, baseball fields, golf courses, schools, local businesses that donated goods to the event, and more.
Most of the locations had outdoor projects, which suited the students just fine. Junior Alexis Condon commented as she weeded and planted at the Polly Hill Arboretum, “It’s definitely better than being in school. I’d much rather be outside than inside, especially since it almost feels like summer.”
Other kids had different motivations. Shavin Curtis, a freshman, felt strongly that “Mother Nature doesn’t get a lot of time because of pollution and stuff. So this is a good time to contribute to the environment.” Senior Zack Moreis shared, “The community has done a lot for me, and it’s Island give-back, which gives me that good feeling of satisfaction.” Junior Hailey Meader, who was helping clean up the flower beds at the Martha’s Vineyard Y, echoed Zack’s feelings: “It’s good to have an opportunity to give back. I grew up here and lived here a long time. My mom was born and raised here, and my grandmother moved to the Island when she was a teenager. I love living here! I like how close the community is, and everyone knows each other, and how safe it feels.”
The initiative started with Ena Thulin and 20 students in her global politics and civic engagement course. She had always dreamed of the project, and believed, “There are so many wonderful organizations and areas of the Island that so many students never get a chance to experience.” And it would be a wonderful opportunity for the community to meet the students. With her class fully on board, the project took off.
“They began by creating a rough schedule, designing advertising campaigns, creating subcommittees, and presenting the event to the school committee and the faculty to get approvals,” Thulin said. “Throughout February, students made phone calls, sent emails, and lined up the participating organizations. During March and April, we signed all the students up for the placements, and contacted local businesses to get food donations for lunches and snacks. In May, we focused our energy on logistical details, including bus routes, timelines, chaperones, materials needed. Over the past week, we really just had to troubleshoot unexpected issues and help the culinary team, including the culinary students, prepare food for the day.”
She added, “Although my class is only 20 students, this event became a grassroots movement within the school. Students of all ages and skills volunteered their time at various points to ensure that all elements were handled. Overall, I think I got support from upwards of 100 students helping to coordinate this. The original 20 students discussed in class the importance of this event not having a single leader, but rather including a role for anyone who was willing to step up and help out.”
The staff at the sites were enormously grateful and impressed. “The kids are awesome. They’re being a super great help. We’re lucky to have them here, especially for this mulching project — they’re a huge, huge help,” said Sam Snyder, horticulture intern at Polly Hill.
The curator who manages the grounds and develops the collections, Todd Rounsaville, added, “They’re great. I was thoroughly impressed when they got off the bus and walked right over and shook our hands, which people that age don’t generally do. They’re very polite and well-spoken, and obviously enthusiastic and productive.”
Lindsay Webster, the membership coordinator at the YMCA of Martha’s Vineyard, noted that there wasn’t any service day on the Island when she was growing up here. Returning after a term with AmeriCorps, she hopes that days like this become an annual or even seasonal event. “I want to encourage these guys to make service a priority through high school and especially college,” Webster said. “Finding ways to incorporate myself during college into the surrounding community made me miss my close-knit Island home a little less.”