They have served up pancakes for Nisse Preschool, set up holiday light displays for Helping Services of Northeast Iowa, collected and sorted books for United Way, cleaned up roadsides for the Decorah Lions Club, and educated area youth about the dangers of tobacco use.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the community service performed by countless Decorah High School students over the years, according to Liz Fox, a language arts instructor who also coordinates the school’s Silver Cord program and advises its Community Club.
“In my 13-year tenure as a teacher at Decorah High School, the one thing that remains constant is the goodness of the students,” she says. “Sometimes teens get a bad rap, but these teens really are committed to serving – and improving – their community.”
It was a group of students at DHS, in fact, who first approached one of their teachers, Cam Forde, in the late 1990s to request permission to form a club focused on community service. Today that organization, the DHS Community Club, boasts more than 30 members who implement a number of annual projects – care to buy a Spirit Button, anyone? – in addition to volunteering on an as-needed basis. “The students are constantly finding new ways to pitch in and help around town,” says Liz, who succeeded Forde as Community Club adviser in 2005. “I derive a lot of satisfaction from the positive energy they bring to the community.”
Last year, after months of planning spearheaded by Principal Kim Sheppard, the high school established a recognition program, Silver Cord, to honor those students who log at least 200 hours of community service by the time they graduate. “It’s been an incredible success – we had 55 seniors perform at least 50 hours of service the first year and earn the distinction last May,” says Liz. “And thanks to the generosity of the Decorah Lions Club, which pays for the cords, the students who earned those cords got to keep them upon graduation.”
Not surprisingly, the willingness of Decorah youth to give back so readily has benefited not only the community but also the teen volunteers. “It’s truly been a win-win for all involved,” says Liz. “The community is grateful for the work the students perform, and the students are thrilled to give back to a community that supports them so deeply.”
Organizations interested in Decorah High School volunteers should contact Fox at
firstname.lastname@example.org. – by Sara Friedl-Putnam