Just two weeks ago, Dustin Surprenant, 17, of Steamboat Springs was making new friends in Africa with his classmates from the Lowell Whiteman School. On Friday morning, he was brought back to Earth, literally, picking up rocks on the out-run of the ski jumps at Howelsen Hill.
Whiteman students were all over town Friday, tackling nine projects as part of the school's annual community service day. Under the supervision of their teachers, they were painting, gardening, picking up trash, maintaining trails and working on revegetation projects.
As he tossed egg-sized rocks into a white plastic bucket at Howelsen on Friday, Surprenant reflected on the life-changing experience of traveling to Africa.
"We visited a school in Namibia, and I formed a relationship, and we've been corresponding," Surprenant said. He visited the home of his new friend, Andres Martin, 18, and shared a meal of cooked bean pods. The family sat in a circle around a basketful of beans placed on the dirt floor of their home made of sticks and grass.
Surprenant said he has begun sending his new friend a little money to help him remain in school and continue his career as a long-distance runner.
Susanna Rice, a Whiteman student from the British Virgin Islands, said the experience from her Africa trip that always will stick in her mind, was visiting a township of more than a million people in South Africa. The Whiteman students were swarmed by children who insisted on clinging to them, she said.
"We gave them piggy-back rides," she recalled. "We heard that after we left, they were asking for us. It made us feel really grateful for what we have."
Whiteman spokeswoman Margi Missling-Root said Whiteman educators are convinced of the value of stewardship and wants student to learn to be stewards of their natural environment, as well as of their human communities. The students, some of whom visited Thailand and Mongolia this spring, performed stewardship projects aboard in addition to their weekly two-hour community service projects throughout the school year.
Local organizations with ideas for a community service project can call Missling-Root at 879-1350, ext. 27.