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Signing up and making a difference

'You feel like you've really contributed,' Costa Mesa High School student says of volunteering.

October 27, 2006|By Michael Miller

COSTA MESA — When Jennifer Kuo set up a table for her nonprofit group at Costa Mesa High School on Monday, it almost took her back to her own high school days.

Kuo, the program coordinator for the Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance, graduated from Costa Mesa High in 1995. On Monday, her group was one of four kicking off the school's second annual Service Learning Expo, in which more than a dozen organizations lay out publicity materials and invite students to volunteer.

"I've always enjoyed volunteering," Kuo said. "At Costa Mesa High School, I got involved with the Key Club, and I actually enjoyed doing it. We didn't just do it to put it on our transcript. You feel like you've really contributed to the community."

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Monday through Wednesday, the first three days of the four-day expo, students stopped by the outdoor tables and learned about a number of local volunteer groups. Working Wardrobes, the Earth Resource Foundation and the Special Olympics were among those offering chances for students to complete their 40 volunteer hours for graduation. In addition, at least two of the representatives on campus were Costa Mesa High alumni: Kuo, and Doug Hansen, whose Angels Charity benefits children with birth defects.

Last year, community service learning specialist Ann Brown founded the Service Learning Expo at Costa Mesa High. In the past, she said, students sometimes found it hard to find volunteer groups, and bringing the recruiters on campus was a win-win situation.

"If they have 15 kids sign up and only seven of them actually show up, that's seven more than they had before," Brown said.

During lunch every day of the expo, students milled around the tables, picked up information packets and signed their names to volunteer lists. Senior Nikki Pierstorff, 17, said she had contributed for years at her local Sunday school and at the Harry and Grace Steele Children's Center at Orange Coast College. On Tuesday, she picked up a brochure from Human Options, an anti-domestic-violence group.

"You kind of go home with a smile on your face," Nikki said about volunteering. "And the hours are also a plus."

Junior Luis Parra, 17, said he was moved to sign up as a volunteer for the Special Olympics — a series of games for handicapped athletes — after seeing them portrayed in the Farrelly brothers comedy "The Ringer."

"Whatever I can do, I'll do," he said. "I just like to help."

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