by Gabby Rivas
Immanuel Schools’ mission is to equip students to serve God and neighbor with mind, body and soul, based on a Christ-centered foundation.
This mission statement is apparent in every way students carry themselves; in Mr. Knaak’s Senior Bible classes, students have the opportunity to serve their neighbor and community by participating in service projects during class.
When Mr. Knaak started teaching at Immanuel forty-two years ago, he envisioned his students making a positive difference in the community. Approximately thirty-five years ago, he thought about offering service projects to the high school seniors as a part of Bible class. “It occurred to me that by the time students are seniors they have sat in the classroom a lot and it would be really good to get out there and do some serving. Right down the road is Palm Village, where we to visit with people and try to bring a little cheer in their life. A lot of those people were stuck in their rooms and didn’t have anyone to visit them. We just saw a need there and a need to get out of our chairs to do some serving.”
Since then Mr. Knaak has expanded service projects to other neighboring locations. Students are given the option to go to Palm Village, Chapter One Daycare, Washington Elementary School, Immanuel Elementary School, The Nearly New Thrift Shop, Choice Book Store or MCC Café. Every Thursday, students in Senior Bible Class gather in the parking lot and car pool to their chosen location.
Service projects have been a wonderful way to get students out of their comfort zone, meet new people and get into the routine of serving regularly. Kira Anderson describes the encounters she has had with the residents at Palm Village. “I love the stories of all the people who go there because it really feels like a family. They enjoy having us there and usually we play piano. We are going to start having Bible Studies.”
After speaking with Kira and other students about Palm Village, everyone could agree it has become a second home. Each time the students volunteer at Palm Village, it uplifts their spirits as well as the residents. For example, Sadie Ascanio shared with me how much she values her time with the elderly because it is difficult to visit her grandma who lives in Oklahoma. Seniors have realized that serving the community doesn’t have to be pulling weeds or feeding the hungry, but comes under a much broader category. At Palm Village, serving is as simple as keeping residents company, playing cards and having popcorn.
While discussing with students about their experiences at Chapter One Daycare, Washington Elementary School and Immanuel Elementary School, everyone conceded that working with kids was enjoyable because of their individuality. Children are themselves, too young to be concerned with the opinions of their peers.
Alexis March said she enjoys watching the children in Chapter One learn and while spending time with them, she’s worry free. Working with children is not only delightful, but has been beneficial to students who wish to pursue a career in teaching.
Ellie Doster, a volunteer at Kingdom Kids and a soon to be teacher, explained why working with children is exceedingly gratifying. “I can be myself around them, they understand what is important in the world and I can relate to them. I knew I wanted to teach first or second grade, but service projects showed me what a different school is like. My favorite part is walking into the classroom or recess and you hear ‘Ms. Ellie! Ms. Ellie!’” Students who wish to earn a teaching credential can now decide what age group may be the best choice for them. Students are helping teachers, leaving with classroom experience and are contributing to their community.
When students volunteer their time at MCC Café, Nearly New Thrift Shop and Choice Books, it is easy to overlook the whole picture. Choice Books sells used books and donates the money earned to charitable organizations. Nearly New Thrift Shop and the MCC Café are owned by the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). This is an organization that is prominent in 61 countries, dedicated to providing communities with long term solutions for diseases, famine, education and violence. These establishments heavily rely on donations and volunteers to keep their businesses afloat.
Carol Peters, manager of The Nearly New Thrift Shop, said, “In the past we have given to churches in the area. Sometimes I feel like I am helping the people in the store because the prices are so low.” Seniors aren’t just volunteering at local businesses in their community, but aiding the poverty stricken areas around the world. Sadie Ascanio described her time at The Nearly New Thrift Shop last semester thus: “It made me realize that every little thing makes a difference.”
It is evident that service projects have made an everlasting change on our character and outlook on life. Community service students have the ability to spark up new interests, make memories, and obtain lifelong relationships apart from work or school. Alexis March expressed to me why she looks forward to service projects each day. “I’m feeling as though I’m actually doing something for someone. People will tell you to serve and you can choose to take it seriously or not.”
My classmates and I are grateful that Mr. Knaak is providing us with the opportunity to go to out to various locations and volunteer. It has brought the community together and been an extremely humbling and a truly eye-opening experience. Service projects have reminded our Senior Bible class how gratifying serving can be, as you get to witness the expression on someone’s face and realize the positive impact you had on their day.