Just ask Laura Marchi, a well-spoken 13-year-old who is participating in the Fun and Service Together (FAST) Program.
“It’s for helping people and getting out there,” she said of the program. “I was thinking, ‘I want to help people when I have the money and the time.’ Now I have the resources and help and the time to do it.”
Marchi said that being a part of FAST has shown her that despite her young age, she can make a difference. “It shows how much power I have now, even though I’m not a working adult,” she said.
As a part Ohio University’s Kids on Campus program, 95 middle-school students have been given the opportunity to do several community service projects across Athens County.
At the end of the summer, each will receive $500 toward higher education, said Jamie Sullivan, camp director of the summer staff.
“At first (I joined this) just for the $500 toward the college fund,” Marchi said. “I’ve been enjoying it, making friends and having fun. I think it’s going to be good for eventually when I find a job for my resume.”
The program, which is free for participants, went through some changes this summer due to a lack of funding, Sullivan said.
“We lost a considerable amount of money for the summer,” she acknowledged.
Because of the loss of funds, Kids on Campus had to cut its first- through sixth-grade camp on the OU campus. A summer camp serving that age group for kids who live in the Trimble Local School District is operating, she said.
Kids on Campus applied for the Learn and Serve Grant through the Corporation of National and Community Service to help pay for the FAST program this summer.
“(We were awarded) The Summer of Service Grant,” Sullivan said. “Only 17 other grantees in the nation were awarded. We were pretty excited.”
She said that the loss of aid has to do with traditional donors moving out of the area. Also, a large number of non-profit groups are competing for the small amount of money available.
“We are in the process of writing some new grants for next summer in hopes that we’ll get that funding back next year,” she said.
Aside from the scholarship, the grant has made it possible for Kids on Campus to provide the youths with transportation and meals each day. Camp is held Monday Through Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sullivan said.
The FAST program teaches youngsters about service learning, she explained.
“The difference between community service and service learning is that the people doing the service also have a benefit,” she said.
“So they’ll be learning things they would’ve learned in school next year.”
The kids are responsible for completing 100 hours of service. They are using different skills such as mathematics, science and writing as part of their projects, according to Sullivan.
“For example, they’re going to build benches at Wayne National Forest using geometry and writing,” she said.
In addition to that project, campers painted a mural in the county explaining the water cycle and renewable energy, she said.
“We are doing a muraling project at The Plains Elementary School,” she said. “They are painting and putting together science content and standards linked to the environment (in the mural).”
Other service projects include painting playgrounds in Chauncey and recycling unused goods from OU residence halls, she said.
Campers are also responsible for coming up with service projects to do on their own.
“They are all in charge of identifying needs in their own community that are environmentally based,” she said.
The campers themselves seem to happy to be serving their communities.
This summer’s camp is separated into five age-based sectors. For members of Team Four, also known as “Team Awesome,” a part of their service learning is teaching young children about recycling and green living, said Jessica Cell, 12.
To do this, they are putting on a play called “Circus” where each of the actors plays a different character concerned with the environment, Cell explained.
For Paige Williams, 11, a “Team Awesome” member, helping out is one of her favorite things about FAST.
“I like basically that we are helping the community,” she said. “I like spending time with my friends and having something to do this summer.”
Williams said that she also has met many friends from other school districts she otherwise would not have known.
Cell agreed, noting that FAST has shown her that she has an important role in both her hometown and surrounding areas. “It shows me how big of an impact one person can have on the environment if they just work for it.”