AYER – The life of a high school sophomore is busy enough, what with the daily run of classes to get through, the slow burn of driver’s ed to get that coveted learner’s permit, the possibility of after-school clubs and sports teams.
So it’s all the more impressive that students decide to dedicate what little free time they have to brighten the day of senior citizens.
For the past two years, Gabby Holland, Leilani Harmon, Tyler Bolton, Claire Hefti, and Brianna Byron of the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District have been volunteering at the Apple Valley Center nursing home on Groton Road.
The five sophomores, known by school staffers as the “Fab 5,” were honored by the Ayer Board of Selectmen last week for their years of work spending time with the residents of Apple Valley and raising money for the center.
The students have been doing so through the United Way Youth Venture program, which helps teens learn business-world skills through charitable community actions.
“They started in middle school as a team,” Principal Spencer Christie said after the board meeting. “Youth Venture was a really big organization for them in middle school. They found a real tightness and community with each other at that place and wanted to continue it in high school. They wanted to continue on with the legacy that they started.”
“They’re a very determined and civic-minded group who stay true to their mission and want to follow their venture through,” District Superintendent Dr. Mary Malone said about the teens
Holland said that she and her fellow students host a party once a month for all of the Apple Valley residents on top of visiting various residents once every other week to keep them company. The students also host fundraising activities to buy toiletries and clothes for the residents of the nursing home, along with contacting other organizations to see if they’d be interesting in offering a donation of their own.
“We’re just making sure that when we do go see the residents, everything runs smoothly,” Byron said.
“We have a lot of family members that used to go there and we know it’s hard for people to go out and see their family there,” Hefti said. “We just wanted to make sure they had someone to see them.”
Beth Foley, the high school’s psychologist who helps oversee the Fab 5, said the students have hosted events include a game night in November and a holiday party in December.
She added that the students are hosting a St. Patrick’s Day event, an Easter party in April and a senior prom in May. Though Foley helps the students with finances and paperwork, she added that the fundraising for the events are done entirely by the students.
Bolton noted how their generous attitudes have spread at school, with two freshmen students helping them sell flowers for fundraising on Valentine’s Day. Holland said the students are trying to find more students to serve as back-up volunteers for them in case of emergencies and more staff support.
All five students were beaming with pride and gratitude after receiving certificates of recognition from the board.
“We work so hard and it feels very amazing to be noticed from the town,” Byron said.