Students from Polk State Lakeland Collegiate High School’s junior class eagerly swarmed the Student Center, where they met representatives from local volunteer organizations during the school’s first Community Service Fair.
They learned about United Way of Central Florida, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa, SPCA Florida, EMERGE Lakeland, Achievement Academy, InnerAct Alliance, and Students Working Against Tobacco – just to name a few.
The students are enrolled in the school’s SLS 1101 College Success class, which all Collegiate students are required to take.
This year, the class introduced a community service component and partnered with United Way of Central Florida to connect students – who are required to complete 10 hours of community service for the class – and organizations in need of student volunteers. It will also help students complete community service hours required for Bright Futures Scholarships
“The Community Service Fair is not only intended to get students involved for the class,” Principal Rick Jeffries said, “but also in hopes that they will continue community service after high school – that it becomes a life-long thing.”
Student Madi Morris was on the hunt for an organization that aligns with her morals and goals for the future, she said. She wants to become a physician and work closely with children.
She volunteers with SPCA Florida, but hadn’t been exposed to the other organizations before the Community Service Fair. She showed interest in organizations including SWAT and EMERGE Lakeland.
Students were able to ask questions and fill out applications for a dozen different organizations.
“This is a good way to connect us to volunteer opportunities and to show us how to be responsible for our community to help it grow,” Morris said. “This is a great way for us to build respect for the community we live in.”
Morris asked Sarah Massey, United Way of Central Florida’s resource development manager, to sum up EMERGE Lakeland’s mission.
Massey, who helped Jeffries coordinate the Community Service Fair, represented EMERGE Lakeland while her colleagues manned the United Way of Central Florida table.
“EMERGE Lakeland is an organization for young professionals to develop and become leaders,” Massey told Morris.
Massey, who is a Polk State Chain of Lakes Collegiate High School graduate, said she was involved in community service and school clubs when she was a student, but wished more opportunities had been presented to her in a way the Community Service Fair connected students with a variety of organizations.
“I always think, ‘what I wish I knew then,’” Massey said.
“My job at United Way is to connect people who want to help those with those who need help and you can never have too many hands on deck in any organization,” she added. “The Community Service Fair is good for the organizations, which need the help, and the students, who each have their own individual interests and passion, and can find an organization that matches those here.”
Massey called Polk State Lakeland Collegiate High School a trailblazer. The school started the first United Way club for students.
Student Caleb Sartor recently joined the club and said he has met new people, made new friends, and been introduced to different ways he can get involved in both the community and at school through volunteering.
At the Community Service Fair, Sartor found himself most interested in Achievement Academy, EMERGE Lakeland, and United Way’s Reading Pals.
“I want to get more involved – it builds character,” Sartor said. “I like the idea of working with kids who are less fortunate, helping them, and reading to them.”
Jeffries said the response from the students, their teachers, and leaders of the organizations has been positive.
“The students are just so eager,” Jeffries said. “I hope this will let the community know that there is a great resource of student volunteers here.”
“In turn, I hope that helps create even more opportunities for our students.”