Like many nonprofit organizations, Lifecare Alliance, headquartered on Columbus' West Side, welcomes help from volunteers.

Earlier this month, that help came from eighth-graders at Hastings Middle School in Upper Arlington as part of the annual Hastings Outreach Program.

HOP Day has been a tradition at the school for the past nine years. On Sept. 1, 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," he said.

"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.

He pointed to the eighth-graders' work at LifeCare Alliance as a highlight of this year's program.

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 to do everything from fill food orders for people with terminal cancer and HIV/AIDS, to delivering Meals-on-Wheels food 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 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 in napkins for LifeCare Alliance's 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-on-Wheels) 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 Sept. 1.

"This was an exceptional year with our students helping in so many ways," he said.

He also pointed to the work students did at LifeCare Alliance, which he said provided the organization with manpower and, he hoped, warmed a few hearts as well.

"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.

nellis@thisweeknews.com

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