DELHI — Teens have put a cool spin on being big buddies and community volunteers, making helping out what's "in" at Delhi High School.
"I really like the feeling of helping people," said senior Alfredo Hernandez as he spent his lunch hour helping junior high kids with disabilities start a garden.
Alicia Knight found feeding the homeless most rewarding. "I want to help people. It brings me joy to make them happy," she said. Knight said she used her service projects as a topic for college essays.
Her friend Karina Meza, also a senior, liked painting projects for Love Delhi. "The whole community got involved," she said.
These Helping Hawks have plenty of company, as 88 of Delhi High's 700 students have joined the school's service club, said adviser Matt Ward.
"I think it's the thing to do here at our school," he said. In part, Ward admits, "There's just not much to do in Delhi." But lots of teens complain they're bored. Not so many jump up and start helping.
"Two years ago, a few students from our school had volunteered at a homeless shelter in Turlock. They were so moved by the experience that eight of them decided to form our club," Ward said. It grew from there, but 30 of the 40 original members graduated last year.
"The first few days of school this year without being asked the 10 returning Helping Hawks members did an incredible job getting word out about the club. They recruited, got announcements out, posted messages on Facebook and just got this buzz going," Ward said. The first meeting brought 45 students, and over the next few months, membership nearly doubled.
"One out of every eight Delhi High students is now a Helping Hawk, and just a few months ago, it was one in every 70," he said.
The teens have helped around town, but they've also had an impact on campus. At the junior high special-education classes housed on the property, the Helping Hawks spend lunch recess with younger buddies one week each month, said special-education teacher Lorie Guinard.
"It's something they look forward to. They call (the teens) their friends. It means a lot to them," Guinard said, watching the older kids help her class plant beans in open cement blocks.
"It's really important for my students. They don't always have that interaction," she said.
Senior Yesenia Maldonado said she likes spending time with the younger kids. "It's an opportunity to show them something else," she said.
All that helping has an effect on the Hawks as well, Ward said. "I've seen some of them brought to tears. It's the first time our kids have seen the humble circumstances of others," he said.
The club splits into five groups, and each group volunteers one night per month, Ward said, listing this year's activities:
Homeless center: Students help prepare the food, serve it and interact with the residents.
Special-needs students: During lunch, teens join the classes, dancing, playing sports or helping with class projects.
Community cleanup: Helping Hawks pitch in for graffiti abatement, picking up trash and more.
Christmas cheer: The teens raised money to stuff stockings and purchase gifts for families living at a Delhi church sober-living shelter.
"Many of the seniors applying for college write to their colleges about these experiences they are having and how it's changed their outlook on life," Ward said.
The high school requires graduates to have completed 10 hours of community service.
"But many of them are going way past their 10," Ward said.
These Hawks have their eyes set on a gold graduation cord that shows they topped 100 hours of helping.