MORRISONVILLE - While President Barack Obama has recently called upon Americans to join together to strengthen the nation, one local school has been doing just that for years to strengthen the North Country.
Morrisonville Elementary School recently wrapped up Community Contributor Month, which it celebrates every January to encourage students and their families to give back to the community.
According to principal Bradley J. Ott, the event has been held since the 1996 flooding of the Saranac River, which devastated nearby homes and businesses. That single catastrophe prompted the school to raise $22,000 to help their friends and neighbors in what was dubbed "Project Flood Relief." Though the flood waters receded, Ott said it was important the outpouring of support did not. He wanted to assure students continued to know what an impact they can make both through donations and volunteering.
"Each year we kick things off with a student assembly, highlighting what it means to volunteer," said Ott.
Students also participate in classroom projects, which have not only helped people on the local level, but have made a difference thousands of miles away as well. This year, the administration wanted the students and their families to get involved. "Project Helping Hands" was born, gathering nonprofit and service organizations from around the area for a volunteer registration night Jan. 22. There, organizations like Literacy Volunteers of Clinton County and the American Red Cross were on hand to tell the community more about what they do and how people can help.
"In these times, we can only go to the well so often, asking for money with fundraisers and whatever," said Ott. "Instead of fundraising or collecting things, we decided to collect people - specifically hours from people."
Raeanne McLaughlin, executive director of Pine Harbour Assisted Living in Plattsburgh, said she was excited to host a booth at the volunteer recruitment night. Pine Harbour residents, who are senior citizens, typically enjoy having children visit them, which is what McLaughlin said she was looking for in volunteers.
"When kids come to the facility, it just lights up the faces of the seniors," she said. "The kids have an impact on the seniors and the seniors typically have an impact on the kids. It's phenomenal."
Alyssa Rock, a fourth grade student in Keith Parrotte's class, was one of the children interested in spending time with seniors. She and her mother, Lisa Rock of Morrisonville, spoke with McLaughlin and Pine Harbour activities director June Saunders, finding what activity in which Alyssa would be most interested.
"I want to do bingo with them," said Alyssa.
"I knew she'd like something like that because she likes to play games with her grandparents," said Lisa Rock. "I think this is great for her. It gives her responsibility and I think it'll be fun."
Cathy Morin of Cadyville was another mother in attendance with her child, Renee, who is enrolled in kindergarten at the school. While her daughter is only 5 years old, Morin said she feels her own volunteering will serve as a model for her daughter.
"It's important to get them involved early," said Morin, who was standing in line at the Adirondack Human Society booth. "It makes them a better person through all their ages and stages growing up. It's a fantastic thing the school is doing this for the community."
Though Ott said every bit counts, the overall pledge goal he wants to achieve is 1,000 hours. Pledges are still coming in, and Ott said he's optimistic that goal will be reached.
"If any one of us was to try to do this by ourself, we would be marginally successful. But, when you bring people together and the power of children, you can do so much more," said Ott. "Together, we can do it."