Elkhart students’ service inspires hope for future

The thousands of hours of community service performed by Elkhart high school students is a great sign for the present and future.
Posted on May 25, 2013 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on May 25, 2013 at 3:27 p.m.

The leads from three stories published last week on ElkhartTruth.com:

Ÿ ELKHART — An Elkhart teen was sentenced Monday to 45 years in prison and 15 years probation for his participation in a July 2012 home invasion and robbery.

Ÿ GOSHEN — Leeshawn Rodgers appeared in Elkhart Circuit Court Thursday morning to face murder charges in the April shooting death of Eddie Johnson and was removed from the courtroom while yelling about a lack of evidence in the case.

Ÿ GOSHEN — Jose Alejandro was sentenced Thursday, May 23, to 100 years in prison for the attempted murder of Flavio Contreras, a shooting that happened exactly one year earlier.

Tievon Nichols, sentenced in the home invasion, is 16. Leeshawn Rodgers is 19. Jose Alejandro is 21. They’re all from Elkhart.

Their stories, and tales about other young people who waste their lives and terrorize the public, could understandably lead us to give up on the generation now growing into adulthood. But that would be a mistake.

Students at Elkhart’s two high schools gathered downtown Friday, May 24, to celebrate their completion of more than 36,000 hours of community service. The good works they performed over the last six months outweigh the actions of Nichols, Alejandro and Rodgers.

Central and Memorial high schools commenced Service Project X in mid-November. Matt Eppers, president of the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council at Central, helped launch the initiative by reflecting on the nature of service.

Volunteering can be formal, he explained. But it can also be personal.

“Service is also helping your neighbor rake leaves or plowing snow for someone,” Eppers said. “Anything where you put someone else ahead of yourself is service.”

Student leaders estimated that 30,000 hours of volunteering worked out to about nine hours per pupil. They didn’t waste any time.

By mid-December, students at Central alone had accumulated more than 1,100 hours of service, bell-ringing for the Salvation Army and assisting neighbors with chores. Their counterparts at Memorial organized a blood drive and pitched in to help Habitat for Humanity.

Students reached a combined total of nearly 18,000 hours by late February. Along the way, they surprised themselves.

Central senior Marbella Chavez told an Elkhart Truth reporter that she expected big service events to generate most of the 30,000 hours, but that didn’t turn out to be the case — many students did baby-sitting and performed “smaller” activities.

One of Marbella’s classmates, Lauryn Campagnoli, said that it wasn’t only the top students who embraced Service Project X.

“It’s reaching far and wide,” she told a reporter.

Some 3,000 students undertook jobs big and small — the kind of tasks that can unite a community. Superintendent Robert Haworth articulated the potential of Service Project X when he helped introduce it in November.

“We’re not looking at it as a contest,” Haworth said. “We’re looking at it as a way to bring the community together ... we have two high schools, but only one community of Elkhart.”

Students did what they set out to accomplish. By putting others ahead of themselves, they made us a stronger city.

They restored our faith in the next generation that will one day lead Elkhart, and for that we are grateful.

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