By Dedra Cordle
It was the morning of Oct. 18 and thousands of students across the county were taking advantage of teacher in-service day by catching up on their zzz’s.
There were a select few, however, who bucked that trend and were up bright and early. It was not done in order to maintain their normal schedule.
“We have just been looking forward to this day for so long,” said Olivia Norbut, a senior at Grove City High School.
What had Norbut, along with more than 100 other students from the city’s three high schools, so excited was the opportunity to give back to their community.
“We wanted to use this day off from school to do something unifying,” said Jocelyn Rojas, of Grove City Christian.
The students at these schools, along with Central Crossing, call themselves the Grove City 3 and say they are on a mission to come together as friends and be a “force for good” in the area.
“I think a lot of us get caught up in the rivalry between our schools and that can sometimes hinder potential relationships,” said Norbut. “But it is our goal to put aside those differences and do something great together and for our community.”
The GC3 formed more than a year ago during an outreach operation from the city’s parks and recreation department.
“It is really hard to get teenagers engaged with programming sometimes because they are so busy,” said Kelly Sutherland, department supervisor. “So we wanted to know what their interests were and work from there.”
At the suggestion of Tim Baker, the department’s aquatics supervisor, they reached out to the student leaders at each of the high schools and wrote down their ideas. A priority among the students was the need to get together.
“We just wanted to get to know our peers from the other schools,” said Russell Zhu, a senior at Grove City High School.
With the help of the city, they created a video game tournament that turned out to be a huge success.
“There were more than 80 students there from all three of the high schools,” said Zhu. “It was great meeting all of these new people.”
With that success came the desire to do more.
“We wanted to be able to do fun things together but we also wanted to do something that would benefit others,” said Norbut.
They suggested a day of service.
“They wanted to do it quickly but undertaking a project of that scope was not feasible within such a short time frame,” said Sutherland. “So we got together during a GC3 meeting and started looking for days that would work for every school.”
October 18 turned out to be the perfect day, and in more ways than one.
For half-a-day, more than 100 students travelled to 12 locations throughout the city to provide assistance at parks and senior centers. They painted walls, planted trees, helped the elderly tend to their lawn, picked up litter and spent time with older adults who could use the company.
“People here love spending time with teenagers,” said Jeannie Compton, the resident program director at Carriage Court of Grove City. “It just makes their day, and sometimes even their week or month, to have that interaction with the younger generation. It puts the biggest smile on their face.”
Norbut, who is a frequent volunteer at Carriage Court, ended up there with her fellow student Parker Felumlee.
“This has been an amazing experience,” he said. “I even made a new friend in one of the residents.”
Sagar Patel, a senior at Grove City, was assigned to the Gardens at Gantz Park where he pulled weeds and dead plants. As a novice gardener, the assignment made him nervous.
“I really don’t know what I’m doing and I was worried I was going to pull the wrong plant and that would be the end of it forever,” he admitted with a laugh.
Gloria Hartung, garden education coordinator at the park, said the group of five students all did fantastic jobs.
“It was great having them here,” she said.
She said often hears disparaging remarks made of teenagers, but believes people do a disservice by brushing them off.
“We have some amazing kids in our community,” she said. “Those who are participating in this event are a great example of that.”
After the volunteer event was finished, the GC3 said they will brainstorm what to do next.
“We would like to do a Sadie Hawkins dance this winter and we have a March Madness event planned for the spring,” said Norbut. “But what I would really love to see is for Give Back Day to become an annual tradition and for this group to become a single united force of good in our community.”