Mark Bohlman briskly assigns his students tasks to complete: food organization and packing, card writing and box wrapping. His seventh- and eighth-grade class disperses, and soon the room is bustling with students beginning their work.
At Tacoma’s Holy Rosary School, Bohlman and his students have taken the foremost role in community service. They complete a project every month designed to help charities and hospitals improve the lives of the people they serve. Previous months’ projects have included cards for Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital and clothing drives, while Valentines for Park Rose Care Center and walk-a-thons are planned for the future. The class organized a food drive in January. Students brought cans and boxes from home that will go to Tacoma Rescue Mission’s downtown campus.
Bohlman’s pupils decided to undertake this particular project after a field trip to the mission. They have volunteered at St. Leo Church’s food bank and were interested in expanding their work to other organizations. Olivia Rezny, a seventh grader, mentioned that she “always wanted to go down to Lighthouse [rescue mission] and work in the kitchen.” Perhaps if this project is sufficiently inspiring more students will seek out volunteer positions outside of class, though a few cited busy schedules as impediments.
Bohlman hopes that the monthly projects will encourage volunteer efforts from other students and set a standard for the years ahead. “It’s been successful for opening the eyes of the school at large,” he said. Hallway posters advertise the need for clothing and food, asking anyone to bring in items for Bohlman’s collections.
The teacher also wants to foster his own students’ leadership skills. Jake Jang, an eighth grader, assists younger students with the project, even though he says it is his first. “I help make boxes and bring food,” he said. He has a positive attitude about the experience, as do many of the young volunteers. Jang asserted that he likes “everything” about the donations and volunteering. Chris Haney, another eighth grader, referenced “the good feeling you get when you help people.”
Such good feelings are only part of what Bohlman desires for his students. “The projects teach them to be thankful for what they have,” he said. Holy Rosary, a Catholic school, has adopted community service as an important part of the religious curriculum. Though Bohlman’s projects are independently planned and conducted, the school mandates a service requirement of eight hours per seventh- and eighth-grade student. Service is prescribed by the Seattle archdiocese, which sets religious education standards for all Catholic schools in Western Washington. Bohlman reminds the card-makers to include prayers as part of their presentations.
Bohlman’s students display remarkable enthusiasm in preparing the food donations. For many, this is their first service project with an entire class. Nevertheless, the idea of a larger undertaking has won their minds. “I like that we’re stepping up and helping people,” seventh grader Karaia Murphy said. It is a sentiment echoed by many in Bohlman’s class, and everyone packs boxes and decorates cards with the confidence of those who know they are making someone’s life a little bit better.
Henry DeMarais is a junior at Tacoma School of the Arts. He is fascinated by literature, politics and culture and hopes to write and speak professionally about the three.