By GREG RUSSELL, Register Staff Writer
Gainesville State School youth spent Friday participating in a community service fair of international presence that has been a local tradition for more than a decade.
“Global Youth Service Day,” a campaign of the Youth Service America (YSA) organization, brought the Gainesville State School’s 270 residents into the facility gym in shifts and allowed them to create crafts and gift bags designed for use by six Cooke County outreach organizations.
“This is really your chance to see beyond yourself,” school official Dottie Luera told the first group.
The service day, conducted annually at Gainesville State School, was initiated by YSA in 1988. The YSA website explained that it is now celebrated in more than 100 countries — and it serves as education for the young participants, since the format combines volunteerism with social awareness.
During Friday’s fair at Gainesville State School, the youth used donated materials to make dog toys for the Noah’s Ark animal shelter, spotlighting the issue of animal neglect or cruelty; they made snack bags for Meals on Wheels, spotlighting hunger; and made toiletry bags for the Abigail’s Arms crisis center, which specializes in assisting abuse victims.
“These are things we can already have ready so that if we have a client comes in who’s fleeing, we have an opportunity to give her some personal hygiene items that she can have to take with her or take into the shelter,” said Abigail’s Arms employee Kathi Kirby, who hosted one of the fair’s six tables.
Other agencies represented on Friday were Edison Elementary School, the Boys and Girls Club and the Head Start literacy program, all presented to the youth as organizations that specialize in serving others.
“It makes them aware of some of the needs out there,” Gainesville State School Principal Terry McEwen said Friday. “I think some of these kids have probably experienced some of the things that we’re mentioning. And this brings the kids and the community together and it brings the kids and the staff closer.”
Luera added that the service fair makes a fine way for Gainesville State School youth to show gratitude. Local volunteers, she said, help make it possible for the youth — who are often released from the school with few or no possessions — to have clothing or toiletries when they leave, and it’s often public contributions that make birthday and holiday parties possible at the youth facility.
“It’s their chance to give back, and I think these kids are aware of how good this community is to them,” Luera said.
Before the service fair began, Gainesville Mayor Jim Goldsworthy read a proclamation to the youth in honor of Global Youth Service Day and told the youth about their city’s greatest strength.
“We’ve got a lot of challenges but we’ve got a lot of wins too,” he said. “And our biggest win is our people: what they do for our community and the spirit of volunteerism and leaving a mark.”
Goldsworthy also cited a statistic offered by the late broadcaster Paul Harvey, who once said only 18 percent of the people on Earth like their professions.
“You’re going to have the opportunity to do whatever you want to do at some point in time, right? We are where we are and we can change that,” he said. “And when you’ve got the opportunity to give back in the community, you’ve got to choose to make a difference. Most importantly, you’ve got to choose to be an ‘18 percenter.’”