By noon Friday, Hayden Middle School students had planted 20 young cottonwood trees in Dry Creek Park.
They worked so fast that the Hayden Recreation Department ended up spending $200 extra on trees to keep the students busy and take advantage of the free labor.
"We were thinking a half an hour per tree, and they pretty much blew that out of the water," Town Manager Russ Martin said as students planted the last of the first batch of trees.
The students in Dry Creek Park were among 150 middle school students who worked to spiff up the town in honor of National Youth Service Day, a public awareness campaign highlighting students' contributions to their community.
The tree planting, organized by Rocky Mountain Youth Corps school mentors Laura Hutton and Janessa Devereux, coincidentally fell on the same day as National Arbor Day, an event started by Nebraska pioneers more than 100 years ago.
Middle school dean of students Gina Zabel organized other service projects for the same day, including trash pick up along U.S. Highway 40, oiling and shining the saddle collection at the Hayden Heritage Center and groundwork in Town Park.
"Knowing we can help our community out is pretty cool," said eighth-grader Elaine Cromie, who was among several students who cleaned windows and screens at The Haven. "We have such a small community, we should do it more often."
Millions of middle school students around the globe may have felt the same
way as Cromie. Together with Global Youth Service Day, National Youth Service Day is the largest service event in the world engaging students in more than 150 countries.
Ideally, the event inspires students to volunteer on their own, Zabel said as she raked leaves in the Hayden Cemetery.
"I think it gives them a little more ownership in their community -- more pride and respect," said Zabel, who was among teachers and Hayden High School National Honor Society members that assisted the students in their work.
Helping out at the cemetery was particularly meaningful for some students.
"A lot of us have relatives up here," eighth-grader Melissa Geiss said as she scraped pinecones into a pile.
The project was a chance to lend a hand to those who keep things tidy every day, she said.
"It's hard work," Geiss said. "There's only one guy that comes up here to do all of this."
-- To reach Tamera Manzanares, call 871-4204 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.