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Student volunteer group teaches Selflessness 101



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Members of Oxford High School's I'm Third student volunteer group pose at Gleaners Community Food Bank in Pontiac. Front row (left to right): Whitney Savage, Ace Xiong, Ella Thronson, Sarah Shaker, Megan Hunter, Kelly Caldwell and Kaylee Nelson. Back row (left to right): Joe Amabile, Ashley Murdock, Hannah Ex, Stefanie Chizmadia, Molly Marks, Kaitlyn Barber, Edwin Schlickenmayer, Jake Trotter and Molly Darnell. Photo submitted. (click for larger version)

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Members of Oxford High School's I'm Third student volunteer group pose at Gleaners Community Food Bank in Pontiac. Front row (left to right): Whitney Savage, Ace Xiong, Ella Thronson, Sarah Shaker, Megan Hunter, Kelly Caldwell and Kaylee Nelson. Back row (left to right): Joe Amabile, Ashley Murdock, Hannah Ex, Stefanie Chizmadia, Molly Marks, Kaitlyn Barber, Edwin Schlickenmayer, Jake Trotter and Molly Darnell. Photo submitted. (click for larger version)
October 23, 2013 - Selfless is not a word that's commonly used to describe teenagers.

But it's exactly the right word to describe the I'm Third student volunteer group at Oxford High School.

Founded three years ago, the group is made up of both students looking for ways to get involved and help others and students with disciplinary issues who need to learn some valuable lessons about life and themselves.

The group's work includes feeding the homeless at the Baldwin Center in Pontiac, volunteering at Gleaners Community Food Bank in Pontiac and fixing up the homes of local senior citizens living on fixed incomes through a program administered by St. Joseph Catholic Church in Lake Orion.

"It is what the kids make it and they're making it great. We're doing so much now," said OHS teacher Joe Amabile, the group's founder and adviser. "I put the opportunities out there. If they didn't volunteer or show interest, it wouldn't go."

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Amabile explained the meaning behind the I'm Third name.

"We tell students that join, put whatever beliefs you have in your life first, put other people second and then, put yourself third," he said.

I'm Third started with a group of kids who weren't really involved much at school in terms of extracurricular activities.

"They needed something to belong to, so we took a trip to Gleaners Food Bank," Amabile said

Since then, the student composition of I'm Third has become much larger and more diverse.

"It's (made up of) all walks of life and that's what's really cool about it," Amabile said. "It's a mixture. It's not just kids that are getting in trouble. Any student can join."

While all the members I'm Third benefit from the selfless work the group does, Amabile believes it's the students with disciplinary issues who probably get the most out of the whole experience.

Instead of being forced to sit through detention, these students are put "in a position where they feel valued" and they're given an "avenue to make new friends" and become "part of something," according to Amabile.

"They feel good about themselves and then, they realize the importance of selflessness, volunteering, helping others, putting people first," he said. "I'm just hoping they can take this (experience) and do something with it when they graduate high school."

Every month on the fourth Tuesday, I'm Third students serve food to the homeless at the Baldwin Center.

"It's a real eye-opener for a lot of students," Amabile said. "They're not use to seeing people (living) in poverty."

After interacting with the homeless, Amabile had one of the I'm Third members with disciplinary issues tell him, "I'm never asking my parents for anything ever again . . . I have all the things I need."

I'm Third students also lend a hand with the Baldwin Center's afterschool program.

"There's a lot of at-risk kids that need help," Amabile said. "We do tutoring, play games."

Twice a year, I'm Third members visit Gleaners Community Food Bank to help sort food for distribution to churches and nonprofit groups that help feed the hungry.

While there, they also learn about poverty in general and what it takes to meet a family's nutritional needs for an entire week.

On Saturday, Oct. 26, I'm Third members will travel to Addison Township where they'll help fix up a senior citizen's home as part of Extreme Home Makeover: St. Joe's Edition.

"A whole bunch of people just fall upon a house and do an Extreme Home Makeover-type of thing," Amabile said.

Throughout the year, I'm Third receives numerous requests for volunteer help and Amabile said the students are always more than willing to pitch in wherever and however they can.

They do everything from volunteering at elementary school events to participating in food drives for Oxford/Orion FISH.

"We're trying, this fall, to get a list of seniors in Oxford that need their leaves raked," Amabile said.

Those who wish to join I'm Third must want to do so for the right reasons.

Amabile said it's not just a group to help puff up a college application or accumulate community service hours for graduation.

"We try to discourage students that are just doing it for hours," he said. "That's what we tell them at the first meeting Ė you want to do this because you want to do this, not because you need some hours to meet a requirement."

When students first join I'm Third, Amabile said "it almost shocks them how fun it is" to be selfless and help others.

"I think they're realizing a little bit about the potential that they have to make a difference, especially the kids with the discipline problems," he said.

Amabile said the I'm Third movement seems to be "catching on" at OHS.

"We had 50 people at our first meeting this year," he said. "It's an entry point for a lot of students that might not play a sport or know anybody coming into the high school."

To learn more about I'm Third, folks are invited to visit the group's Facebook page.

It's listed under "I'm 3rd OHS Student Volunteer Group."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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