TOWNSEND -- While others were sleeping in on their day off from school, a group of North Middlesex Regional High School students spent Martin Luther King Jr. Day making blankets, painting murals and cleaning graffiti off school bathroom stalls.
More than 150 volunteers participated in the day of service, which calls on students to give back in King's tradition of service.
The projects are coordinated entirely by students, who also held a food and book drive to benefit local organizations.
Service learning advisor Ray Kane said that service work benefits students just as much as it does the people they are helping.
"I think it's important for my students to feel as if they're part of a greater community, but part of their own community as well," Kane said. "I think one of the worst things that we can do is not feel that we're part of a larger community that is making a difference. Having my students involved in service helps them become engaged with a variety of people that they may have never met if they weren't otherwise doing so."
Senior Marina Scheid coordinated the day, which is one of many similar programs held at schools around the country to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The program launched at North Middlesex last year with 127 volunteers.
"Mr. Kane said, why should we drive an hour or an hour and a half to another school when we could do it in our own school," she said.
Projects such as painting murals to hang in the school, Scheid said, help to brighten halls and remind people of the goals of service-learning.
"I think it adds some sort of inspiration. It's all about bringing the community together, and that's what we're all about," Scheid said.
Students also tied in the school's community garden program, which last year donated 1,200 pounds of freshly grown food to the Pepperell Aid from Community to Home and Townsend Ecumenical Outreach food pantries.
Volunteers cleaned out the school's greenhouse, which will soon be replaced through a $20,000 grant from the Lowell Community Foundation.
North Middlesex senior Jordan Keating is a coordinator of the community garden program, which he said has made all of those involved think differently.
"It really puts things in perspective. It brings people closer to the source of their food and gives them an appreciation for all of the hard work that goes into it," Keating said. "You can see a direct connection between the work that you're putting in and the food that the people in your community are getting."
For Scheid and others, Kane's leadership is a key part of what has made the program so successful.
"Mr. Kane teaches his students to deal with problems as they come. He always says that if you're doing something good, something good will come of it," Scheid said.
Kane said he is thrilled to have students who are so willing to dedicate their time to helping others.
"It's great to see people come out. It's simple stuff where people are engaged," Kane said.
For many students, seeing the results and appreciation of their work makes the time worthwhile.
"Working with these people has been just a wonderful thing because the impact is great and the appreciation on their level is amazing," Kane said.
"It's a wonderful process to be able to create things and then know that it's going directly in the hands of people," he said.