Students tackle community service in different ways

Harbor sophomore starts club to help special-needs teens

others help out with library, church programs.

November 26, 2011|By Alicia Lopez
  • Fourteen-year-old Will Grijalva of Costa Mesa Middle School cleans a drum at the Save Our Youth center as part of his school requirement. "Express Yourself" is painted on the wall behind him. Grijalva became involved with Save our Youth through their workout and dance programs and decided this is where he wanted to spend his volunteer time.
Fourteen-year-old Will Grijalva of Costa Mesa Middle… (STEVEN GEORGES,…)

If they want to move on, they must learn to give.

It is a policy in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, and there's no way around it. Students must complete at least 40 hours of community service during their four years of high school to graduate.

How students decide to spend their time varies, and results in ideas that are sometimes routine, sometimes inspired.

Newport Harbor High School sophomore Natalie Cernius' idea had its genesis close to home. She started a Friday Night Club at her school in an effort to give her older brother, who is autistic, more opportunities to meet people and have fun.

She said participants are special-needs teens, including those with Down syndrome, autism and physical disabilities.

Natalie collaborated with the United Cerebral Palsy of Orange County and Talk About Autism, which provide a clubhouse for the club to meet once a month. The group also meets at Natalie's house monthly.


"It was originally for him, but there are so many kids," said Natalie, 15.

There are also many volunteers. She said there used to be eight to 12, and now 10 to 15 come to help out from various schools.

"It's incredible," Natalie said. "I never felt so good about something."

Her 17-year-old brother seems to be enjoying it, too. She said he glows during the events and is making friends.

"He and a little girl and another kid from school are now best friends," Natalie said.

Ann Brown, the support secretary in charge of the community service program at Newport Harbor High, said many students have gone beyond the basic community service program, but added that many wait until the last minute to meet their requirements.

That's when the staff is able to help.

"Teachers always need help after school," she said. "As long as it's after school hours."

She said there are about 3,000 nonprofits in Orange County alone. She helps students find them by providing lists to teachers to post in every class.

"I try to work with students to find their interest," Brown said. "If they like animals, maybe direct them to Community Animal Network. Or they can plan a manicure day once a month at a senior center.

"We've never had a student not fulfill the requirement," she added.

Not all students are ready to make such a time- and energy-consuming commitment as Natalie has to fulfill their 40 hours.

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