Henderson students help themselves by helping others

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Sarah Nagem
Salisbury Post
Nick Harris might be wise beyond his 17 years.
But school officials told him he made a terrible decision last year when he brought antique swords to West Rowan High School to show to his friends.
Harris faced a misdemeanor criminal charge, and school officials sent him to Henderson Independent School for at least 90 days, he said.
That was almost a year ago. He’s enjoyed his time at Henderson so much that he doesn’t want to leave.
“I felt I was more respected at Henderson from all the teachers, so I decided I was going to stay,” Harris, a junior, said last week while he volunteered at Rowan Helping Ministries.
Last week, about 10 students from Henderson spent the afternoon at Helping Ministries, which operates a daily soup kitchen, overnight shelter and a number of crisis assistance programs.
Harris spent his time folding clothes for the donation center, while some of his classmates fixed lunch and manned the front desk.
High school students need at least 15 hours of community service to graduate. Volunteering at Rowan Helping Ministries is a good way for students to earn those hours, said Sam Burnette, a transition counselor at Henderson. But it’s more than meeting a requirement, Burnette said. “We’re doing this in order for them to give back to the community,” he said.
Harris doesn’t need more community-service hours. He got his hours in his freshman year with the Future Farmers of America. He pulled corn for festivals and sold chicken biscuits at the Rowan County Fair.
But Harris wanted to volunteer at Helping Ministries anyway.
“It’s a responsibility for us who are more fortunate than others,” Harris said.
Seventeen-year-old Nelson Valenzuela, a junior at Henderson, feels the same way. He has personal experience with people who need some extra help, he said.
“I guess I’m making a difference by helping them,” Valenzuela said.
The bonus is getting out of class for a while. Curtis Torrence, a 17-year-old senior, made sweet tea and helped prepare the hot dogs served for lunch in the soup kitchen.
“I got out of school, I got to do something,” Torrence said, “and I got to help people. That’s always good.”
Like Harris, Torrence said he has prospered at Henderson. In fact, he’s making straight As, a big turnaround from his academic performance at East Rowan High School.
Now he has goals, Torrence said. He wants to go to college and become a park ranger.
Volunteering is a way for the Henderson staff to remind students that a brighter future is available to them, Burnette said.
“What’s good about the alternative school is we give them hope,” he said.
Contact Sarah Nagem at 704-797-7683 or snagem@salisburypost.com.