SALISBURY — Shortly after they filed off the bus, Rowan Helping Ministries divvied up the mass of orange clad student volunteers.
Manpower is often the most needed resource at the county’s largest homeless shelter, workers said. But on Monday, 60 Carson High School students brought their A-game.
The Carson High School Leadership program is in its second year, coordinator Amie Williams said. This year, she wanted to change things up.
“We did team building last year,” she said, “but this year we really wanted to focus on service.”
Two dozen students went to the facility’s warehouse. Another dozen began dismantling cots inside the shelter. The rest were directed to bathroom-duty, ground clean-up, the kitchen, food pantry or nearby transitional homes.
Before coming to the North Long Street complex, the student group went to Cleveland Park to spend time with youngsters in the BackYard Missions program.
Kylie Kluttz, a rising senior, said the shelter was a different experience.
“It’s really great to have the opportunity to try to reach out into the community. This organization does such a great thing for the people around here,” Kluttz said. “It really makes you really grateful to have the things that we have. It’s a different experience.”
Kluttz was among those temporarily packing residents’ personal belongings into large black trash bags so the group could scrub the facility’s cots.
Kluttz said Monday was her first outing since joining the leadership program initiated by Carson Principal Kelly Withers.
Scrubbing the polyester cots clean, she said, gave her a fresh perspective.
“I think it was a great thing to go and play with the children but this is where people live,” she said. “Everybody appreciates having a clean living place.”
The Carson High Leadership Program began with Withers handpicking upperclassmen from the yearbook, students said.
When the school opened the program up to all students to apply, their numbers jumped from roughly 50 to 60.
“Ms. Withers, our principal, she was very good in the beginning to try to find the kids,” Williams said. “This year we really just wanted to open it up to the school to have every student have the opportunity to be a part of it.”
As a teacher last year, Williams said, she helped coordinate the effort as an administrative intern.
This year she returns as a new assistance principal at Carson to continue the program.
Once she decided on a more service-focused year, Williams said, she phoned Rowan Helping Ministries’ Director of Resource Development Kimberly Collins.
“She said ‘Oh my goodness, we have all this stuff we can do,’ and I said ‘We have 60 kids,” Williams recalled. “She said ‘OK, let’s do it.’ ”
“We wanted a place that was local,” she said, “and that the kids could sweat, basically, you know, the kids could work.”
And sweat they did.
Inside a warehouse a few blocks from the facility, about two dozen students formed a line and passed along cardboard and items used or given to those in need at the shelter.
Hannah Elmore, a rising senior, said the program has garnered a lot of support from the students.
“It’s a great feeling to know that you’re helping others. You’re not always thinking about yourself,” Elmore said.
As a second-year volunteer, she said Monday’s efforts were similar to last year’s work with young children.
“Last year we had a lot of fun going to the AIG place and helping out with the little kids. That was my favorite,” Elmore said. “You got to talk with the kids and ask them how their day was, and maybe make them a little happier inside — maybe give them a little spark of wanting to go to school and wanting to be there.”
Collins said the two-hour volunteer period Monday made a “tremendous” difference at the shelter.
“Having all that done in one day,” she said, “we just can’t do it.”
Collins said students were able to get a nearby transitional house much closer to being occupied, as well as power washing the front area of the facility and cleaning and sanitizing the cots.
The students also packaged USDA food boxes for the organization.
“It would be a weekend project,” Collins said, if Rowan Helping Ministries didn’t have the volunteers. “It would be a full day Saturday working with various groups to get this done.”
But the end result wasn’t just a cleaner building, students said.
Graham Purcell, a sophomore, said cleaning the areas where residents stayed made him see homelessness differently.
“You realize how fortunate you are,” Purcell said. “It makes me feel glad for what I have. I’m just glad I can help somebody else.”
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