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Serving others is the One91 way

Serving others is the One91 way

Community service is part of the culture in District 191

If you look in the schools throughout the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage school district, you will see a strong commitment to service across every building and every grade level. Our communities have ample opportunities for people of all ages to get involved in service. Whether it’s helping a neighbor or a classmate, donating supplies, time, or money to regional charities, or finding ways to contribute on a more global level, the commitment to service is strong here. Our students are a shining example of that.  

District 191 offers ample opportunities to get involved that aren't found in a lot of other districts, like the Service Club at the elementary level and our weekly food donation program. We have seen students pitching ideas for service projects like towel drives or hair donation, middle school students volunteering at food drives and leadership activities, and high school students donating their time to organize blood drives or cleanup efforts just to be able to give back. Opportunities for service and ways to get involved are not hard to find here. 

Helping students serve others

student pulling weeds in community garden

Another way that District 191 shows a strong commitment to service is by supporting a partnership between Community Education and Burnsville High School that is responsible for connecting students with service opportunities. Courtnee Floback is the Youth Services Coordinator at BHS, where she helps students find volunteer opportunities and track their hours in pursuit of a service credit. She also supports the Youth Service Advisory Council to have service be an easy option for students to pursue. 

“Our youth are doing amazing things in terms of service that range across the board from very localized service to international projects,” said Floback. “Students are volunteering by nature and show that they are community givers throughout their lifetime. I love being able to show them the impact that they make.”

Using a software called InnerView, students can track their volunteer hours and get an idea of the impact they are making through their service projects. Since June 2021, more than 200 students have logged 6,740 volunteer hours at BHS doing more than 1,500 different activities. InnerView calculates that by global standards, students have made more than $101,000 of impact in the last year. 

“It’s so amazing to see the culture of service in these communities,” said Floback. “I used to keep track of all the service hours by hand on paper, but with the new system it’s great to be able to print a resume of the service work students have completed and add more service hours easily and conveniently.”

Students who complete 80 hours of service over the course of their four years at BHS are eligible for a service credit for their transcript. Students complete an essay at the end of their hours that focuses on the impact of the work they have done as well as the impact of the work they have done on them.

“You can feel the passion in those essays!” said Floback. “ We have such great participation across a variety of different student groups in these projects and it’s really inspiring to see more service opportunities getting kids excited.”

Helping for the sake of helping

BHS students don’t just volunteer for the sake of credit, they do it because they are passionate about it. There is a need to connect students with more service opportunities which is one of the main roles of the Youth Service Advisory Council (YSAC) at BHS. YSAC has about 25 student members who meet monthly to get different ideas for service projects and then work on communicating those opportunities to others. 

YSAC also coordinates the annual volunteer fair where local volunteer organizations come to the school to share information about the work they do with students at an event after school. Though COVID-19 has prevented the fair from happening the past few years, YSAC President Anna Tran says that students still find ways to serve because it’s so important to them. 

“Volunteering and service is so incredibly important to our community,” said Tran. “All of our clubs and organizations are service oriented and there is even a requirement to have volunteer hours to get a varsity letter in athletics. Sometimes kids don’t even know about earning the service credit until they have all the hours. Service is important here!”

YSAC works with other groups within the school who are focused on service and a variety of initiatives including BursvilleStrong and the National Honor Society. BHS Senior Zoe Olson serves as Secretary for YSAC, participates with the other groups, and also organizes the annual blood drive at BHS. 

“I got involved with YSAC because I really enjoyed volunteering and I saw it as a way to further my involvement and grow the impact I could make,” said Olson. “I was a member of Service Club at my elementary school and did some service leadership activities in middle school, so I have been involved with service for a long time.”

BurnsvilleStrong is another group where students can find ways to serve their community. Even during the pandemic, high school students visited elementary classes virtually to read books, gave presentations about how to help healthcare workers, and worked with young students to make cards to bring to local hospitals. Students helped at eldercare facilities with donations and distanced visits, and efforts really increased to get food and other products to those who needed them. 

National Honor Society also spearheads some great initiatives including the Blaze Nation Station, a free store set up in the library at BHS where students can get items that they need ranging from school supplies and personal hygiene products to food and even prom dresses. Donation drives take place at different times throughout the year with bins set up in the school year round to collect donations.

“Students wanted to provide not just food for peers, but everything that students might need, '' said Floback. “It’s like a mini Target where students can get what they need with no judgment. Everything is donated by the community and students and maintained by NHS students.”

Addressing the hunger gap with volunteers and service 

BrainPower in a Backpack packing food for students

Another program has become a favorite for students volunteering and provides food and meals for students across the district who may need additional food on the weekends. BrainPower in a BackPack has been active in the district for the past 14 years and currently provides between 600-700 bags of packed food each week to students across the district. The program was originally funded by the Burnsville Rotary club but has become a district initiative that is a popular program for students to participate in the packing and distribution of bags each week.

Students from BHS as well as the students in the BEST Transition program volunteer every Thursday to pack food items into bags and help distribute them to the different schools. The program started as a way to help provide students who may not have great access to food over the weekend with some options. Pamela Voigt has worked with the program for the past 12 years, including as the coordinator for the past five years. 

“BrainPower in a BackPack is very specific to our community and serves only students and families in District 191,” said  Voigt. “It’s great because anyone can participate and volunteer and do this work. It doesn’t require any certain GPA or other requirements, we just need help packing and distributing food and students get really excited about helping.”

The main fundraiser for BrainPower in a BackPack is the annual Bowls for BrainPower event where student volunteers make bowls and pottery pieces that are sold with funds going to the program. A partnership with the BHS Art Department and the Youth Service Program, Bowls for BrainPower usually sees about 70 students and community volunteers who participate, with  schools also donating themed prize baskets that can be won during a raffle. A recent raffle featured a particularly popular basket that was filled with scratch off lottery tickets!

Hunger relief is a priority for the school district and there are other programs that help serve the community as well. The 191 Community Pantry is a pop-up food pantry that allows anyone in the community to pick up groceries with a drive up pick up option designed to provide a family of four with eight meals. The program is serving around 100 families at bi-monthly pick ups. There is also a fresh produce distribution during farmer’s market season from July to October where families can pick up a box of assorted fresh produce from local farmers and suppliers. 

“We don’t require sign ups or anything, we just want to be able to provide food for those who need it,” said Voigt. “Volunteers aren’t born, they are created, and we see a lot of students become passionate volunteers after helping provide food to their community.”

Community focused future

students serve community by baking cookies

With so many opportunities for students to volunteer and so many systems in place to allow them to get credit, serve their community, and learn about organizations, it’s no wonder that such a large amount of the student population takes advantage of service opportunities. 

“We help each other and we help others throughout the district,” said Olson. “People volunteer because they want to, not because they have to. Students don’t stop at the required 20 hours for NHS or the 80 hours for the credit, they keep finding ways to help.”

The plan for the future is to continue to make volunteering and service accessible for all students and to expand opportunities for students across the district. 

“I really appreciate that our district and our high school recognize that our kids are doing this kind of work and want to give them more resources,” said Floback. “We can do great things in our community and we want to encourage that. There has been a pick up of students who choose to do projects that are focused on being very local, which is exciting. These kids are so willing to do this work, and I love being able to support them!”