The Apple Tree corps: Youngsters give, receive in summer service

August 2009 Posted in Community, School

By Linda WhitmoreVolunteers with the Apple Tree School Supplies program sort tablets, pens, markers and other items donated.

People often say they get more out of volunteering than they put in. Among them are the youngsters who participate in the Apple Tree School Supply Drive.

Throughout their summer vacation, 41 students ranging in age from 9 to 17 meet twice a week to plan, organize and execute the collection of everything from pencils and crayons to calculators and cameras.

“Schools can’t afford them,” said 9-year-old Emma Hoover, the youngest volunteer.

The supplies are given to needy students in Silverton, Mt. Angel and surrounding areas.

“It benefits the community,” said Bitsie Appleton, 14, who is in her second year of participation. Many of the students return several summers. Taehya Conner, 12, has been helping out since she was 8 and says the experience has been helpful.

“I learned organization and business skills,” she said.

Maria Tapia, 15, who is in her third year, said that in addition to knowing that what she’s doing helps the less fortunate, she hopes to be a role model for new participants and she enjoys the presentations made by community leaders.

Each session features a speaker from various segments of business, government and health care services who talk about service, leadership and business conduct.

These skills are put into action when the students interact with the community. They write letters and make personal contacts with representatives of churches, businesses and shops, asking that they participate by placing boxes where the public can contribute supplies.

Such interaction with adults can be daunting for youth, but the Apple Tree program prepares the students in advance.

“I learned how to shake hands,” said 12-year-old Cole Ballinger. “You look people in the eye instead of down. Even if you’re young you can still make friends in the community.”

Eager to share their experiences, the students spoke with enthusiasm about their new skills. One student said her involvement helped her get over her fear of public speaking. “I learned to present myself in a professional way – not just, ‘hey, what’s up?’”

“It’s a good place to step out of your comfort zone in a friendly environment,” said Hart White.

To spread the word to the community, some of the students go to the Farmers’ Market to tell passers-by about Apple Tree, and others are called upon to go to service clubs to talk about the program.

Ericka Fitch, 11, is in her first year of participation. She had to get up “really early” one recent summer morning to attend a 7 a.m. Kiwanis Club meeting. “I spoke about what we did and they gave us a humongous donation.”

Cash contributions are welcomed. Doreen Kelly, who supervises the Apple Tree program, explained that the money is used to purchase things schools have asked for, but have not been donated.

She had totaled the cost of all the items needed. “An excess of $20,000 was requested. We never get that,” Kelly said. “We try to figure out how much is ‘need’ and how much is ‘want.’” At the end of the drive the students divvy up the supplies as equally as possible.

The wish list is longer this year. It is hoped there will be more donations, too. Contribution boxes and posters with “apples” listing desired items have been placed in about 60 churches, stores, banks and businesses. On Aug. 26, there’s finale party by which time the supplies have been sorted and they are given to the school principals.

Coordination of every aspect of the project is handled by student committees. Cole Ballenger, 12, is in charge of data entry. He tracks the volunteers’ hours. Awards are presented and a report is submitted to United Way.

Supplies are counted by the Inventory Committee. “Everyone’s on the Inventory Committee; it keeps us organized,” said Kelly, who speaks highly of the students’ accomplishments.

First-year participant Emily DeSantis, 13, heads both the Inventory Committee and the Business Committee. “It’s tons of fun,” she said.

Stuart Robertson, 13, said he has found another advantage to participating. “It gives me something to do in summer. It gets boring after awhile.”

Hart agreed, “Apple Tree is a good way to keep your brain from going dead in the summer. It’s a good way to stay active and not play video games and stuff.”

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