High School Group Uses Spring Break to Volunteer

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When you think of a typical high schooler’s pre-COVID spring break trip, you probably don’t picture a group of teens in hard hats and safety glasses cleaning up flood damage, but that’s what Dakota Hendren was doing in 2019. And she wasn’t the only volunteer.

“There’s a club at my daughter’s high school, Royal Oak High School, called Interact,” explained Dakota’s father and CES Waterford Branch Manager Paul Hendren. “It started so that kids, instead of going to Florida on spring break to party, could go do charitable work.”

And Paul is a good person to describe the club as it’s been in his family for a while now. His son, Andrew, did it all through high school, and now his daughter Dakota has picked up the baton.

It’s a heartwarming image — groups of kids year after year using their vacation time to serve communities around the country — but it’s probably harder work than what you’re imagining.

“There are no frills on these trips. They sleep on the floors of churches and campgrounds,” Paul described. “No hotels, nothing like that. And it’s physical work, picking up debris, using power tools.”

Happy to Volunteer

So what keeps these kids going back? What compels them to choose long trips, hard work, and sleeping on a hard floor over a fun trip to the beach or even just a relaxing week at home?

“For my daughter, it’s the look on someone’s face when you do something for them that they’re not able to do on their own,” said Paul. “I talked to my son, and he mentioned an older gentleman who had a farm, and his fence was destroyed. So they rebuilt it for this older guy with a limited income, and they changed his life. He couldn’t thank them enough; he could have livestock again.”

The group has gone to New Orleans to clean up after Katrina.

They’ve picked up trees and debris, demolished buildings, and picked up garbage. Simply put, they do whatever people need them to do. They help people who need it, often older people without a lot of family around to help.

“It can be as simple as picking up branches for two or three days,” said Paul. “Or it can be something like helping save city and county records after flooding. They use these kids as they see fit.”

Helping the Helpers

While every year these kids prepare to go help others, they usually need some help of their own.

“When these kids go on these trips, they have to bring their own safety gear — steel-soled boots, hard hats, safety glasses, gloves,” said Paul. “A lot of people just don’t have it, and then on top of that, they leave the gear behind on the sites for future volunteers.”

On top of paying for the trip itself, this safety gear can be a big financial investment for students’ families.

“One day, I was on the phone with our TAMCO rep, Thomas Frasier. I mentioned the trip to him, and he said to send him an email of what we needed, so I did,” said Paul. “Then he got with his boss, Mike Smith, who authorized him to send us everything we needed — a dozen hard hats and a dozen safety glasses, free of charge.”

That phone call was a gamechanger, and a heartwarming example of not only how willing people are to help but of the kinds of relationships CES employees value with their representatives. The kindness TAMCO showed to the students at Royal Oak High School allowed them to pass that kindness on to flood victims in New Bern, North Carolina.

“They really enjoyed going as a group,” said Paul, “and seeing the looks on people’s faces.”

And while these kids don’t know when it will be safe to pile up on a bus to take their next trip with the current pandemic, you can bet that as soon as it’s safe to travel again, these kids will be ready to go. And they’ll have the CES family cheering for them.

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