Earlier this month, students from Hastings Middle School performed approximately 3,500 hours of community service on a single day as part of an annual tradition of service learning through outreach.

For the past nine years, staff members and students have upheld the Hastings Outreach Program -- otherwise known as HOP -- to help teach and learn what can be accomplished when people take up causes to aid others or beautify landscapes.

This year, HOP Day took place Sept. 1. For that day, all 690 students at Hastings left their classrooms and devoted their school time to community service projects such as food drives, creating mats for homeless people, pulling invasive species from a Columbus park and preparing meals and pet toys for people in need and their companion animals.

"HOP Day ... is a dedicated day of service learning for all students at HMS," Principal Robb Gonda said. "It is meant to be a model for students on what could be done throughout the rest of the year to serve our local and greater community.

"Creating a caring culture does not happen by accident. It is through sincere, intentional actions that exhibit our core mantra at Hastings of being thoughtful, caring, creative and connected students."

Gonda said service learning is part of the Upper Arlington Schools' "DNA," with students throughout the district learning about the sites they visit, performing the service and then reflecting on what happened during that time and what can happen through service projects.

"Having a tie to a school community and building relationships is at the core of any good school," he said. "The staff at Hastings look at HOP Day for both a way to introduce service learning and build strong relationships with their students as they work side by side to make a difference, both during this day and throughout the school year."

The HOP Day projects were selected after a committee of teachers led by Brook Dionisio and Pam Meadows considered feedback from previous students about various projects and concepts.

Gonda lauded the two teachers and the rest of his staff for helping to come up with meaningful projects for all grade levels. He pointed to eighth-graders' work at LifeCare Alliance on Columbus' West Side as a highlight of this year's work.

Formed in 1898, LifeCare Alliance was central Ohio's first in-home health care agency, Ohio's first agency to provide visiting nurses and the nation's second agency to deliver Meals-on-Wheels, according to agency officials.

The nonprofit organization provides an array of health and nutrition services to older adults and medically challenged or homebound residents of central Ohio through programs such as Meals-on-Wheels, senior dining centers, wellness centers, visiting nurses and a Columbus Cancer Clinic.

On HOP Day, Hastings' entire eighth grade went to LifeCare Alliance's Catering Center, 670 Harmon Ave., Columbus, to do everything from fill food orders for people with terminal cancer and HIV/AIDS to delivering Meals-on-Wheels to homebound people throughout Franklin County.

They also tore up old T-shirts to make chew toys for older adults' companion animals and they spent hours rolling silverware bundles for people who get lunch at the organization's Harmon Avenue cafeteria.

"They do everything," said Michelle Jones, LifeCare Alliance communications director. "Those kids are phenomenal."

Jones said Hastings students have been working at LifeCare Alliance on HOP Day for about the past five years.

In addition to being a kind gesture, Jones said HOP Day help is significant because the organization serves meals 365 days a year and provides other year-round services with a staff of just 200 people.

Without volunteers, she said, there's no way the organization could come close to adequately helping people in need in Franklin County. She said HOP Day instills valuable lessons.

"When children learn about volunteering at a young age, chances are when they grow up, they will continue to volunteer," Jones said.

"If we get groups like this to volunteer just five days of service to us a year, that saves us $12,000."

Hastings eighth-grader Malia Ford said she was happy to pitch in rolling silverware for LifeCare Alliance's West Side dining center "to help the community."

In addition to making chew toys for pets, Hastings eighth-grader Joe McCarthy was part of a group of students preparing food for pets.

"A lot of the people LifeCare Alliance helps have pets," McCarthy said. "Before they started this (Pet Care) program, they would feed their pets from the meals they were given."

Gonda estimated that with each Hastings student working for five hours on HOP Day, the school provided 3,500 of community service.

"This was an exceptional year with our students helping in so many ways both our local and great community," he said.

He also said the work at LifeCare Alliance provided the organization with manpower and, he hoped, warmed a few hearts in the region.

Those experiences, he said, are meaningful to the recipients of the help and often plant seeds for spreading positivity to communities near and far.

"They helped not only serve food but also interact with the adults in the center to make their day a little brighter and show our service does not need to be glamorous or about raising money to make a big difference in the lives of someone else," he said.

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