Friday, October 15, 2004

First-grader Kiley Kettle had a simple reason for pulling weeds from muddy flower beds at the Aarondale Retirement Center in Springfield.

“I just want to help the people so they can have a happy place to live,” said Kiley, one of 465 Immanuel Christian School students who performed community-service projects yesterday across Fairfax County to raise money for their school and three sister schools overseas.

The students started by collecting donations from friends and family members for the work they would perform, then did their chores.

Kiley and her classmates were joined by some middle-schoolers in raking leaves and pulling weeds at the retirement center. The boys made a contest out of the chores, as usual, racing to see who could collect the most.

“We’re just helping each other get all the leaves,” said 6-year-old Paul Boersma. “We’re serving our neighbors and just want to be nice.”

They also sang songs to the residents and presented them with cards after their work was finished.

The residents “always enjoy it, they truly do,” said Nancy Nelson, activities director at Aarondale. “For the residents to see [the children] and to see them doing a community project, it’s very worth it.”

Middle-school students traveled Tuesday to Lancaster, Pa., to pack boxes of humanitarian supplies for children in the former Soviet Union, as a part of Operation Carelift. Yesterday, they helped parents and teachers supervise the youngsters.

Third- and fourth-graders planted trees and cleared the banks of a local pond, and fifth-grade students went to a fire station to wash trucks and pick up a few safety tips.

School administrator Steve Danish said Immanuel usually hosts a jog-a-thon to raise money, but students and school officials decided this year to have students perform hands-on services for the community.

“We wanted to give our students a project that would allow them to not just be hearers of the Word but doers as well,” Mr. Danish said.

“For us, it’s a whole lot more than a fund-raiser or community service. It’s building a foundation for the future.”

Mr. Danish said the students, in first through eighth grade, have already collected $74,000, with more donations coming every day. Ten percent of the money will go to support the sister schools in India, Romania and Zambia.

“Christian education is the future hope for their nation,” Mr. Danish said. “If we can send $3,000 to the school in Romania, it would put five or six of their kids through school.”

Yesterday, it seemed as if everybody benefited from the children’s efforts.

At Fire Station No. 26 on Edsall Road in Springfield, students washed four trucks and one ambulance, then watched as firefighters demonstrated how they helped people who are trapped inside wrecked cars.

Lt. Jim Masiello said the visit gave the firefighters a chance to gain the students’ trust.

“It’s a great community outreach with us,” Lt. Masiello said. “It allows us to interact with the kids so they’re comfortable if they ever have to call us. We’re able to teach them some fire safety and just make them more aware.”

Parents and supervisors said the project taught the students the value of hard work, an aspect of the Serve-A-Thon not lost on first-grader Matthew Anderson.

“We want to give more money to our school and give other money to other schools,” the 7-year-old said. “It’s not fun, but we’re doing it so we can help other people.”

Classmate Nicole Myers expressed a different sentiment.

“I’d rather do this than go to Disneyland,” she said.

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