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Ripon Christian students volunteer in community
Ripon Christian seniors Sarah Briggs (left), Kaylie Colyn (middle) and Brittany Petlansky help prepare a garden at Valley CAPS in Manteca for its spring plant. Ripon Christians high school students spent the day in the community on Friday, volunteering at 27 different sites through San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties. - photo by James Burns

In a bright blue shirt, shorts and black-framed sunglasses, Connor Norton looked more surfer boy than knight in shining armor.

But he was.

They all were.

Norton wiped clean the inside rear windows of a Valley CAPS bus, while classmate Josh English tended to the swinging door.

Outside, the clients of this adult day program watched with great interest, waving and chatting with the Ripon Christian teens each time they emerged from the bus.

Across campus, Sarah Briggs, Kaylie Colyn and Brittany Petlansky prepared the raised garden beds for their annual plant.

When the flowers bloom, the staff at Valley CAPS will deliver bouquets to the convalescent homes in the area.

Step No. 1, however, meant the Ripon Christian seniors would have to get their hands dirty, searching the soft soil for weeds and roots.

Petlansky was happy to oblige, even dangling a worm for CAPS client Guadalupe Cisneros.

“It’s deeply appreciated,” Valley CAPS assistant director Jennifer Boffkinser said. “This is pretty unique. … It’s great that they’re giving back to the community like this.”

The scene played out at sites all across San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties on Friday, as Ripon Christian High School traded in its desks and books for real-world experience.

It was all part of Service Project Day, an annual event orchestrated by math teacher and spiritual leadership advisor Kevin Tameling.

“As a school, we’re committed to serving others, as God has called us to serve,” said Tameling, who has been in charge of the program for the last five years. The project is in its 17th year.

“When I first came here, I thought students would just goof off. What I’ve found with every group I’ve been with, they go and work hard. I think they work harder there than they do in the class.”

He’s got a point.

Briggs fumbled with a hoe as she combed the top layer of soil in the garden bed. Gardening isn’t one of her top talents.

“Does it look like it?” she quipped, digging the hoe into a mound of dirt.

Andrew Vargas, Chris Saenz and Zach Davis baked inside a CAPS bus, clinging to dirty rags and bottles of disinfectant.

“Hey,” Norton said, “we could be at school.”

He would have been the only one.

Ripon Christian sent 300 volunteers out into the community on Friday to 27 locations in Manteca, Ripon and Modesto, ranging from schools to churches to food banks and other resource centers.

Students painted buildings, played with preschool and elementary students, picked up trash, washed buses, packed and stored canned goods, and took inventory at community clothing closets.

“We’re trying to be a light in the world,” Norton said. “I wish we did this more often. One day isn’t enough to be serving people.”

The support was welcomed by those in the community.

Fourteen arrived at the Second Harvest Food Bank on Friday morning at 9 o’clock, eager for their detail.

CEO Mike Mallory put the teens to work on the food bank’s Senior Brown Bag and Food For Thought programs.

He was impressed with their work ethic and sense of community.

“Not everyone has money and not everyone has talent, but most of us have time. That’s where volunteers come in,” Mallory said. “Without volunteers we could not put fresh fruits and vegetables into our brown bag program nor our Food For Thought program. They’re the ones that box this stuff up.

“We have volunteers in here every day, but the nice part with the schools, we’re educating young people. We’re teaching them at a young age. So often today, I don’t think that’s being taught.”

The event comes on the heels of Ripon Christian Schools’ Spiritual Emphasis Week from Feb. 4-8, when the elementary and middle school students completed their own service projects.

Tameling estimates 600-700 volunteered during Spiritual Emphasis Week.

“To me,” Mallory said, “they’re sending a message: We can make a difference by volunteering our time.”

Message received.