Strengthening ties

Youth Service Days bring communities, students together

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— Bob Parker knew his yard could use a little work, but his legs wouldn't allow it.

"I'm diabetic, and my legs are numb up to my knees," said Parker, 64, while standing on the lawn of his Oak Creek home. Long, dead branches drooped from several trees on his property, a small plot on Second Street with untrimmed rose bushes, a lawn that needed to be raked and a broken fence. "These are things I've wanted to fix for a long time," Parker said. He was born in Oak Creek and has lived in the same house for most of his life.

On Tuesday, Parker got a lot of help fixing up the place.

A team of 10 Soroco Middle School eighth-graders, led by mentors from Rocky Mountain Youth Corps, spent the afternoon working in Parker's yard. The students trimmed trees, cleared and raked the lawn, cleaned up the rose bushes, fertilized the tulips and fixed the fence -- a structure made of nearly 100 white wrought-iron school desks that Parker said his father brought home from work in the 1960s. His dad was a coalminer and a janitor at Soroco schools.

The clean-up work was part of Soroco's annual Youth Service Day, a collaborative effort between community members and more than 60 middle school students, kicked off spring cleaning throughout Oak Creek. Youth Corps mentors Tara Haug, Nick Marzano, Marissa Lueders and Lucas Sherman coordinated the event, which included painting curbs throughout town, picking up litter and doing yard work at four homes.

Oak Creek Mayor Kathy "Cargo" Rodeman pitched in as well, tying a bandanna around her head and leading the painting crews.

"They get a little sloppy, but they love it," Rodeman said about the students who covered curbs with bright yellow-orange paint.

The students were rewarded for their efforts by Black Mountain Tavern, which donated 20 pizzas for lunch.

"They're such amazing people," Rodeman said about Black Mountain Tavern owners Doug Diamond and Dan Boubenheim. "They do so much for the community."

Safeway and City Market grocery stores donated sandwiches, and Ace At the Curve hardware store contributed paint for the event.

"It's nice to do good things for people," seventh-grader Mariah Ornelas said about the morning she spent sprucing up two Oak Creek residences.

Hayden Middle School students held their Youth Service Day on Saturday at The Haven Assisted Living Center. Following the day's theme of "Strengthening Intergenerational Ties," students and parents landscaped around the center and did activities with its senior residents.

Sherman, who

mentors at Hayden Middle School, said setting up the event was a challenge during the busy end of the school year.

"This week has kind of been a scrambling week," Sherman said.

Six Youth Corps staff members, all young adults in their 20s, volunteer four days a week in local schools as tutors, mentors, friends and role models for students struggling to succeed in the tough middle school years.

Through Youth Corps, the mentors are able to participate in an AmeriCorps program that pays them a small weekly stipend for living expenses and, after the completion of 1,700 hours of service, grants them $4,725 that can be used for future tuition or to pay off student loans.

Local AmeriCorps program director Hillary Ackerman said the school-based mentoring program, a collaboration with Partners in Routt County and the city of Steamboat Springs' Teen Programs, began five years ago. Next year, the program will move under the jurisdiction of Partners.

For Bob Parker, the joy of having his yard fixed up was matched by the joy of seeing a productive program in action.

"I love to watch kids work," Parker said Tuesday. "It's wonderful how much life and energy they have."

-- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203 or email mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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