Performing good deeds for senior citizens

Day of Caring 2019 event at Baldwin-Whitehall School District
By: | May 13, 2019
As part of a school community outreach event, Pittsburgh-area students shopped for groceries, repaired sinks and trimmed hedges. This school community engagement strategy was meant to connect with senior citizens who pay taxes but have no other ties to the district.From left to right: Diana Golden, Holly Niemi, Katherine Musselman, Lar Wah, Sandip Rai, Sha Tamang, Renee Christman, Bhim Dhakal, Ayath Rai, Mukena Kasango, and Florence Uwizeye.

One Friday afternoon in early May, 40 teams of faculty members and students from the Baldwin-Whitehill School District worked at senior citizens’ homes. Under a cloudy sky and light drizzle, they raked leaves, trimmed hedges and stained decks. Some shopped for food or made runs to Goodwill. Others cleaned floors and repaired bathroom sinks.

The district’s second-annual Day of Caring school community outreach event connected with the three communities that the district serves outside of Pittsburgh.

For the first time, the school community engagement strategy included mandatory participation for students in grade 12, and younger students volunteered.

“I am happy to report that the event went really well and was incident free,” says Superintendent Randy Lutz, who launched and participates in the effort. “We had about 110 jobs scheduled, and we completed most of them.” The district postponed the remaining chores until early June due to inclement weather.

One of the senior citizens whom faculty and students served first lost $500 to a fraudulent contractor and then received a quote for $3,000 from another serviceman.

“She felt stuck and was hoping to get some of that work done that she knew she couldn’t afford,” says Lutz. The group assigned to her house mowed grass, trimmed bushes, installed new outdoor railings and repaired steps.

Giving back

Lutz came up with the program after his district began hosting a large track event that requires schools to close for a half or full day.

“Most of the people who live here do not have kids in school anymore,” Lutz says. “So we have a group of people who dutifully pay their taxes and support what we do, but their only connection to us is what they see from the curb.”

In addition to this school community outreach event, district leaders also invite these residents to enjoy music and home-baked cookies at one school in the winter.

School community engagement strategy tips

  • Don’t let the fear of potential injuries and workers’ compensation rates deter pursuing this type of project. “Ultimately, everything we do involves risk,” says Lutz. “People can get hurt walking up the steps of your high school.”
  • Find good fits for certain chores, but make sure that volunteers understand that some people might have to do jobs outside their comfort zone. For example, Lutz assigned faculty in industrial technologies and engineering to more technical projects. Teachers could also volunteer to join certain groups that were assigned to homes that required specific tasks.

Creating empathy

This school community engagement strategy has helped nonlocal school staffers to connect with area residents, says Lutz. “This leads to them becoming more empathetic toward the plight of our seniors,” he says. “We get a little detached from that.”

And while participants provide assistance with physical labor, a bulk of their day involves much more. “We are here to make people feel really valued. We engage in conversations, and we sit down and listen,” says Lutz.

Related: K12 districts expand community support

The school community outreach event now exposes students to these crucial experiences. This year, Lutz and a team of students visited the home of a 90-year-old woman who was Lutz’s bus driver when he attended Baldwin-Whitehall as a student. “When we finished the job, my students were sitting in a circle around her. She was telling stories of what it was like to drive back then and what the district was like, and the kids—they were listening. They were paying attention and asking questions,” he says.

“I hope that at the end of the day, we all felt really good that we were out there with people who maybe don’t have someone to talk to and listened to them,” Lutz says.