Just after noon on Thursday, downtown Merrill filled with 46 Lost River Jr./Sr. High School students. They swept and shoveled the sidewalks clean, and put all the rubbish in trash bags. They made their way through town, getting it cleaned up for the annual Klamath Basin Potato Festival.
They also did it to give back. Thursday was Give Back Day for the Klamath County School District.
“I think it’s important to help out our community because they’ve always supported us,” said Rachel Parks, a Lost River student.
“It’s definitely important because they are the backbone of our school,” Chelsea O’Grady, who is Lost River school president, said of her community. “They’ve always supported us and helped us get to where we need to be in sports and all of our clubs. They’ve donated many hours and a huge amount of money towards everything we do at the school. It’s important to give back and keep it clean here and keep it looking nice.”
Rachel and Chelsea put the essence of Give Back Day into words and into action.
Give Back Day was founded by the Klamath Falls City Schools in 2014, which celebrates the day in the spring. It’s now a thriving tradition in the city district and a time when students say thank you to their community by making a difference in that community.
Last spring, Blue Zones Project Klamath Falls expanded Give Back Day to more places in the Klamath Falls. Many Klamath County schools were unable to participate in the spring, so the district chose Oct. 12 as the KCSD Give Back Day.
In all, 16 schools participated. Some ran drives to raise funds, canned food and pet supplies for local organizations. Others headed outdoors to clean up their campus, a local park, or downtown.
“I am amazed at the number of schools and number of students who lent a hand on Give Back Day,” said Samantha Tipler, KCSD public relations representative, who helped support projects at the local schools. She worked with Blue Zones Project Klamath Falls to coordinate events at
the many locations. “It’s great to see so many young people wanting to say thanks to their community.”
At Lost River, about 50 students also went to clean up Malin, and 10 students cleaned up the school campus. Merrill and Malin elementary schools sent their students to help, with 150 students and 136 students participating, respectively.
Chiloquin Jr./Sr. High School sent 75 students into the community to clean up the town and park. Chiloquin Elementary did the same with its whole school, almost 170 students.
About 300 students at Henley High School dug in to help clean up the Henley Complex. “We’ve got a whole bunch of different projects. First and foremost, clean up the grounds,” said Henley Principal Jack Lee. “We’re knocking down weeds, planting some trees and bushes. Just having the kids get their hands on cleaning up.”
Lee was optimistic Give Back Day would have a lasting impact on students.
“Hopefully they’ll take ownership and keep it that way. That’s our goal,” he said.” I think they’re having a good time getting out of the classroom and enjoying the nice weather. Hopefully it’ll look like a different place by the end of today.”
Keno Elementary spent tshe day cleaning up its campus, where the whole school, nearly 190 students, picked up pine needles and pine cones. At Gilchrist School, all 200 students in grades kindergarten through 12th cleaned up their school. Brixner Junior High students also cleaned their campus at the end of the day, all 400 students participating.
Stearns Elementary first- and third graders went to nearby Crest Park for their Give Back Day activities. The older students buddied up with the younger ones to plant bulbs and hang bird feeders.
“We thought we’d come down and beautify the park a little bit. We know a lot of the kids use the park” said Stearns First Grade Teacher Kathy Baker. “It’s a great way for them to feel a part of the community, get together with their family and friends and have more of a connection to the area.”
Many schools ran drives leading up to Give Back Day. Ferguson Elementary ran a winter clothing drive, Bonanza School and Henley Middle School each ran a canned food drive, Henley Elementary ran a coin drive to benefit the Klamath Animal Shelter and Peterson Elementary started a food pantry, already receiving 522 food items for families in need. Mazama High School ran a pet supply dive for the animal shelter, and 19 students volunteered at the shelter on Give Back Day. Mazama gave $266 and 664 pounds of food and litter along with toys, blankets, towels, beds, cleaners and treats for the shelter.
“I love animals,” said Emily Decker, a Mazama student who is interested in volunteering at the animal shelter. “It’s also our Give Back Day. So I’m giving back to our community to show we can pitch in and make a difference.”
Samantha Tipler, Public Relations, Klamath County School District