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Colorado Teens Volunteer to Offer Friendship, One Person at a Time
Eight years ago, Brad Thomas, a language arts teacher at Grand Junction's Central High School, began sponsoring The Revolution Group, a loosely organized, not-for-credit, extracurricular group with the slogan "Loving others one person at a time, forever."
"We do things in small and big ways to love other people," Thomas tells ParentDish in a telephone interview. "That might be putting your hand on somebody's shoulder if they are having a bad day, smiling at somebody in the hall who looks unhappy, opening a door for somebody, picking up somebody's books. Really little things."
Each year, the students, whose numbers at meetings and events fluctuate from a handful to 60, take donations and stock a pantry for the school's food bank, which provides food for anyone in the community who needs it. In the fall, students rake leaves for the elderly -- for free -- or volunteer to help create a safe Halloween event for children. Students can suggest projects to the group, such as baking Christmas cookies and passing them out at a nursing home.
"When I go (to volunteer), everything changes and my mind opens up. I make so many connections with everyone," Ashlee Shannon, a 17-year-old Central High School senior, tells ParentDish in a phone interview.
Seven months ago, students at the high school, located 245 miles west of Denver, started venturing into the community surrounding Kimwood Park, an area of nearby Clifton, Colo., sometimes referred to as "Little Beirut" because of the neighborhood's violent crime.
Each week, The Rotary Club of Grand Junction delivers food to Central High School, and every Wednesday, The Revolution Group students pack donated food for a "backpack program," distributing weekend food to nearly 700 children in need. On Sundays, students and other volunteers may bag more donated food and set up for a meal for those in the area. Then, breaking up into groups, the students help distribute the remaining donations throughout the Clifton neighborhood, visiting and inviting the neighbors to a community meal in Kimwood Park. After the meal, the students and Clifton children play games or do crafts.
For the Kimwood Park community project, The Revolution Group is partnering with a community church and the local Rotary group. Thomas is a member of Canyon View Vineyard Church, the church involved in the partnership.
The students, who can be accompanied by family and friends as they volunteer, have overcome wariness in the neighborhood and, Thomas says, the results are "beautiful."
Myrriah Gallegos, a 15-year-old sophomore, tells ParentDish in a phone interview that she wants to make the world better and give back to her community. She says she has seen results first-hand by going to Kimwood Park every Sunday.
"Crime rates have gone down a lot. The first time I went to Kimwood, there were like five or 10 kids that would go out and eat with us," she says. "At this last thing we did with them, it was an Easter thing and we had 300 out eating with us."
The Revolution Group, Gallegos says, has become a non-judgmental family and is bringing the community together. She says one Kimwood Park family told her she has had a big impact on their young daughter.
Gallegos' brother, Shylo Gallegos, a 18-year-old senior, says he wants to make the world a better place and joined the group this year. He tells ParentDish he wishes he had become involved earlier.
"If freshman got involved with this, our school would be a lot different," Shylo Gallegos says in a phone interview. And, he says, besides giving him an outlet to help others, The Revolution Group has made him feel better about his own life: He says he used to be the kid who sat in the back of the class and didn't have many friends and didn't really like anybody.
"When I got really involved in The Revolution Group, it kind of got me out of my shell," he says. "I got more outgoing. I started talking to people. I started having fun sitting in class. They helped me become more of a person."
Reached by phone in the middle of dinner after an activity-packed school day, Mike Jerome, a 16-year-old sophomore, tells ParentDish that involvement in The Revolution Group has had a similar effect on him.
"It has definitely changed my life and I'm a better person because of it," he says.
Related: 10 Ways to Teach Your Kids Compassion
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.