As teachers and students have learned to adapt to distance learning, so have the members of Club Y.E.S., a Wayzata High School program that offers students volunteer opportunities within the community.

When COVID-19 restrictions took effect, “it basically brought all Club Y.E.S. activities to a halt,” said Brenda Badger, program manager for Club Y.E.S., which stands for Youth Extending Service.

Each week, 1,200 Wayzata High students – a quarter of the school’s population – can choose from as many as 12 activities a day, seven days a week, in which they can go out into their community and make a difference.

Volunteer activities have included targeted learning services, such as reading and tutoring elementary students after school; connecting and building relationships with residents at senior living facilities, and helping at events and organizations around the community.

To continue the program while adhering to the restrictions in place, Badger began looking for alternatives so her students could continue to serve the community in a different capacity.

Essentially, it was time for her to listen to the advice she’s been telling her students for years: “Change is inevitable, learn to adapt and rise to the occasion,” Badger said, noting students oftentimes encounter challenges they must overcome while volunteering in the community.

It became important for her to reflect on those words and figure out how she could adapt the program so students could still find ways to connect with and serve their community.

Badger began conversing with the club’s community partners to find out their needs and created a list of six project ideas students could choose while social distancing.

“Students have stepped up, rose to the occasion and the results have been amazing,” Badger said. “It’s so heart-warming to see how students still care and want to make a difference.”

The first project involved students creating and sending homemade cards to seniors. Prior to the health crisis, students were meeting the seniors weekly for a wide range of social programming, from leading art projects to helping with Bingo.

The relationships that have been built “is so cool to see,” said Erin Erdahl, activity director at Cherrywood Pointe in Plymouth, which includes assisted living, independent living and memory care. The students bring an element of vibrancy to the residents that is missing at this current time, she added.

Through the project, residents have received around 100 cards from students.

“It just brings so much joy to the residents,” Erdahl said. “It’s something they can connect to in a time when they miss that social piece, and they miss the students.”

Working with the Club Y.E.S. program has been so meaningful for the residents. “It’s a game-changer,” she said. “It goes beyond calling Bingo.”

Badger said this intergenerational connection with seniors also gives students a sense of purpose – that they, too, are valued and loved by someone else.

Club member Maitri Chandrashekar said she wanted to write cards for the residents to help “brighten up” someone else’s day as creating art also cheers her up.

“I know that it gets lonely and in times like this, everyone needs a little positivity, so knowing that I can contribute to that means everything,” she said.

To continue the connections with elementary students, Club Y.E.S. students are creating video storytimes and tutorials where they teach a special skill. These videos are then uploaded through a private YouTube channel shared with the elementary schools.

Sophomore Ramira Ambrose, for example, created a video showing how to make sushi.

“I decided to create this video because I wanted to spread creativity to younger students and their families in our community, especially during our current times of difficulties,” Ambrose said.

She and her family love sushi and especially love to make it.

“I thought that this video would be an awesome way to share my family’s love for sushi with other families,” she said, adding that it is a joyful family bonding activity with a tasty reward to enjoy.

The students are also sharing video clips and artwork to include in a comprehensive video to thank essential workers in the communities in early May. Badger said she also hopes to share this video on a public platform.

Additionally, this is the time of year when Club Y.E.S. students typically participate in environmental activities surrounding Earth Day, such as garbage pick-up and planning trees, all of which have been canceled.

Students, however, are encouraged to participate in green projects that can safely be done from their own home as a means of honoring Earth Day, which is Wednesday, April 22.

They include:

• Create a digital how-to guide to build a food composter that can be distributed to family and neighbors.

• Build a birdhouse or wood duck house using only the materials they already have at home, which will later be donated to the Three Rivers Park District.

• Research and develop plans for planting a pollinator or butterfly garden.

Badger said she’s impressed with how her students have been rising to this occasion to help others.

“I believe our youth are one of the greatest assets in our community,” she said. “We just need to plant the seeds.”

Helping others through acts of kindness is good for everyone as we work through this challenging time together, she said, noting students have also lost many opportunities due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“A small act of service can go a long way,” Badger said, and referenced a quote by Wayzata High School Principal Scott Gengler: “Happiness – or self worth – is not found by looking within, look beyond yourself and find the value of others.”

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Kristen Miller is the community editor for the Sun Sailor, covering the communities of Plymouth, Hopkins and Minnetonka. Email story ideas to kristen.miller@ecm-inc.com

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