BND, By Joseph Bustos

Inside of a backroom at the Shelter Shop, Belleville West High School students Maddie Grimmer, Michelle Woods, Morgan Mrsich and Tayo Truong sorted through donated prom dresses before they were priced for sale. Then, along with Key Club sponsor Jen Stauffer, they folded other donated clothes that will be put on sale when the shop eventually switches to its spring and summer items.

The Belleville West Key Club members were among more than 100 students out in the community on Wednesday performing volunteer work as part of the school’s day of service.

About 10 groups participated at various locations around the community, including the Illinois Center for Autism, the Four Fountains Nursing Home, Project Compassion and the Violence Prevention Center Shelter Shop.

“I think it’s a good idea to help other people in the community, especially people who don’t have much,” said Maddie, a sophomore. “I think it’s good to help them, because if they’re a victim of domestic violence, they probably don’t have a place to go. So people are here to help them.”

The day of service is part of the school’s annual Character Blitz Week. The theme this year is “Hold My Hand,” said Molly Hepp, a social studies teacher and sponsor of the service club BASIC at the school.

“The week is focused on reaching out to others within our school and supporting them in any way that we as individuals can, in hopes to create a more unified student body and community,” Hepp said in an email.

The week included having positive messages around the school on sticky notes and giving high-fives to people around the building.

On Monday, students were allowed to wear their favorite team jerseys, while teachers spoke about the importance of respect and responsibility of being part of a team, Hepp said.

The day of service was added this year and organizers hope to make it an annual event.

“It’s just as important for students to understand to be a part of a community you live in, you have to give back,” Hepp said. “Hopefully each year we build it and have more students get involved in this day of service. I would love to have our entire school serving the entire community.”

While at the Shelter Shop, which benefits the Violence Prevention Center of Southwestern Illinois, the Key Club members helped organize products.

“I think it’s a great way to make them appreciate where they’re at, what they have, and think about others that are less fortunate than themselves,” said Ellen Cugier, director of the Shelter Shop. “It’s a great way to give back to their community. It’s a good way to show them it’s necessary for people to give back to the community.”

Students from the History Alive Club went to Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Belleville to teach third-graders about the 16th U.S. president. High school students, who were each paired with a third-grader in Marcy Hock-Knaus’class, made small log cabins out of pretzels, and played a game where they taught facts about Lincoln’s life such as his family and his assassination.

“I’ve never felt like a teacher before,” said senior Demico Little. “(We were) teaching them what it was all about and showing them how our history is very exciting.”

The opportunity to volunteer outside of the school gave the Belleville West students a chance to see who they were helping with their community service, according to Demico.

“If we know we are helping someone, we at least know that it matters,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who it goes to, as long as we’re helping people and making the world a completely better place.”

Amanda Borkowski, who is one of the sponsors of Belleville West’s History Alive Club, said she hoped students would learn how they can positively affect younger children.

“You saw the smiles on the kids’ faces; the kids are now talking about Abraham Lincoln and gaining knowledge they might not have had before,” Borkowski said. “It’s really about helping each other.”