Saratoga Springs High School seniors are making a habit of helping their community.
As part of a tradition that began in 2008 and has continued since, students have participated in Senior Give-Back Day — when a small army of Saratoga High seniors disperse through the city to repay the local organizations that have helped them achieve their scholastic goals.
The students provide the local establishments with welcomed manual labor at a volunteer price.
“They get to see the park from a different perspective,” said Saratoga Spa State Park Manager Mike Greenslade. Students helped with the construction of a new trail in May. “They lay claim to a little piece of the park that they helped to create.”
“We just don’t have the staff to do these extra projects at this point,” Greenslade added.
Nearly 300 of the school’s approximately 475 seniors were scattered throughout the city to provide volunteer work at 26 sites.
“The amount of work generated on this one half-day is extreme,” said Jan Kelsey, an honor society adviser at the high school and one of the day’s organizers.
At the Salvation Army, Kelsey said, a group of students completed a landscaping project that otherwise would have taken the nonprofit organization a week or more to complete.
The beneficiaries “are all incredibly grateful,” she said.
In his first year of involvement with Give-Back Day, math teacher Anthony Spackmann accompanied students to Saratoga Hospital.
“Finally, I got a chance to be a part of it this year, and it was unbelievable,” he said. Spackmann lent a hand to some of the students planting a garden.
“The kids really fed into it and worked extremely hard,” Spackmann said.
“It’s important for the students to learn a sense of community. Giving back and giving a little bit of time goes a long way.”
Students have been volunteering at the gardens at the Yaddo artists retreat since the Give-Back program’s inception.
“It’s really a wonderful program,” said Jane Wait, founder of the Yaddo Gardens Association’s restoration project. At Yaddo, she said, students are “getting not only a history of Saratoga but are giving back in a labor-intensive restoration project.”
The restoration of the ground’s gardens began in 1991 and has ever since enjoyed student-volunteers donating their time apart from Give-Back Day as well.
“We try to give them a tour of the garden first so that they get a bit of history, then we put them to digging holes,” Wait added.
At Division Street Elementary School, students painted and mulched. “I think it’s a fantastic opportunity,” said Dr. Greer Miller, principal at the elementary school. “It’s wonderful for the students to be able to feel the pride of giving back to the community.”
This year and in the past at the Saratoga Springs Public Library, students didn’t do much library work. Rather, they spent most of their time planting a vegetable garden.
“Every thing they’ve planted has come up out of the ground and is doing really great,” said Trevor Oakley, the library’s teen services librarian. Some of the sprouts will soon be beans, lettuce, and spinach that will be donated through the Saratoga County Economic Opportunity Council.
While the stated purpose of Give-Back Day is to afford the seniors a chance to do some giving back, Oakley believes the program is also an opportunity to show the students a side of the library operation that isn’t all about books.
“They get to see what a large operation this library is,” he said. “Every year we get a group of kids that have never been or haven’t been [to the library] in a long time. … It’s a way to reach out to different groups of kids that haven’t experienced the library.”
Since the school’s first Give-Back Day invasion in 2008, it is a tradition at the library that the students are assigned the job of bringing out the library’s uniquely decorated version of the Saratogian fiberglass horse, “Paige Turner,” to be displayed for the summer.