Lending a hand for the holidays

The holidays are not only for spending time with loved ones, but also for reaching out a helping hand to those who are less fortunate.

On Tuesday, Nov. 25, there were about 300 extra pairs of hands making a difference around the Capital District on O'Rourke Middle School's community day.

The Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake School District's annual event, which is always the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, sees the students of the eighth grade spreading out across the community and volunteering a few hours at various agencies.

Thirty-six different groups are participating this year, from nursing homes to soup kitchens. Students might put together gift bags for a children's hospital, sort records with the Ballston Town Historian, hand out donations at a food pantry or read to seniors. At the end of the day, they return to the middle school and create a presentation with their group and share their experiences with classmates.

We want to broaden their horizons, to increase their awareness of their community, to promote tolerance and allow them to discover their own abilities, said Marge Rizzo, O'Rourke's librarian.

She organized the program with family and consumer science teacher Joyce Brown 14 years ago, and the duo has been running it ever since.

Rizzo said she hopes that students will take a lesson away from their experiences and endeavor to help out whenever possible, not just around the holidays.

"If a person begins to volunteer as a young person, they are twice as likely to volunteer later in life," said Rizzo. "Planting this seed early reaps the benefits their whole lives."

She said that when contacting the Schenectady ARC this year to plan the program, she learned that some of the kids who helped out at last year's community day were still corresponding with the clients.

"It was totally on the kids' initiation," said Trisha Viera, activities coordinator at the ARC's Pricetown Facility. "I can't tell you how much the consumers loved getting those letters."

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