Summer Volunteers Make Extensive Impact

Maddie Hsia ‘23, Kate McDonald ‘23 dedicates summer to service

Blake has a long history of community service” noted Lisa Sackreiter, the head of Service Learning and Community Engagement.  A mission Blake actively commits themselves to involves helping students partake in service opportunities while actively participating in their community and helping people in need. Through the Community Service Board and its committees as well as service opportunities offered through school and suggested on Google Documents such as “Summer Volunteer Opportunities” and “Blake Good Neighbor Actions,” Blake is able to get students as well as their families involved in various service opportunities throughout the school year. Sackreiter stated, “I have a list of things I try to keep updated with current and ongoing opportunities so I like to share that list with folks, you know if I can learn what are the things that a student feels  interested in that works with their schedules you know I can make suggestions about different organizations that might be a good fit for them.”

Despite the overwhelming number of students who participate in service opportunities at various points throughout the school year, some students take the extra step and broaden their horizons outside the clubs they attend. Maddie Hsia ‘23 is one student who has taken the initiative and participated in an extensive amount of service work throughout her time at Blake. Hsia’s participation in Service Path Recognition, awarded to students who complete 100 hours of service in one year, allows her to parse out her service hours and participate in multiple organizations throughout the summer. She explains, “100 hours is a lot of hours, and so I try to get the majority of it done in the summer, but I think I do have 20 hours left.” In order to complete the remaining service hours, Hsia will utilize school breaks. Her strategy of lighter service work in the school year allows for a balance of both staying involved in her community as well as staying on top of school work. 

“I think what was the thing that struck me was how many students in the communities we live in are in such need that their parents can’t even afford to buy their backpack” ”

— Kate McDonald '23

Last year, Hsia co-ran the Hunger Committee, a club that falls under Blake’s Community Service Board. Her love of service work combined with her passion for solving the food-related crisis allows for work in and out of school. This summer, Hsia “[D]id a bunch of food packing events like Feed my Starving Children and EveryMeal.” Each organization she has been involved in has been for varying amounts of time, “EveryMeal I just learned about last year … Feed My Starving Children was since sixth grade.” Along with food packing Hasia also participated in two other big service projects this past summer. “I did this research project with the U of M. It was with the psychology department; it was really interesting to see what a lab looks like at a university.” Despite COVID-19 restrictions and volunteering virtually, Hsia still was able to participate in the research project and collect data as a volunteer. The project she participated in was a study for citizen science and focused on collecting GVKEYs, which are unique codes for various companies. Although she did note that this may not relate to the other service opportunities she participated in, it was a good experience to see what college research looks like. 

Aside from volunteering at food shelters and participating in the University’s research project, Hsia also works with a school for new immigrants: “A lot of my work that I did this summer was with Learning in Style School … Learning in Style School is a school for adult immigrants, and so they teach them English and they try to help them kind of transition to American life.” While volunteering at Learning in Style, Hsia has taken on different roles as a volunteer saying, “I’ve worked at their food pantry giving out food to their students and then tutoring in the classrooms. Normally I’ll do a little bit of the summer school because their school year overlaps with ours, so it’s a little hard for me, and then I’ll help organize books or clean down the classrooms.” Hsia’s affinity for Learning in Style has taken her beyond summer volunteering. While talking about Learning in Style, Hsia referenced Legacy Day, Blake’s day of service. “The Legacy Day food drive last year went to Learning in Style. For Legacy Day this year, actually a lot of the stuff is going to Learning in Style, so we’re going to make little care packages for them” Although the Legacy Date has since changed, Hsia notes that they still look forward to making these care packages in the Spring. 

Hsia isn’t the only student taking summer volunteering to the next level. In the past year, Kate McDonald ‘23, has taken over the backpack collection for students in need, something her brother, Will McDonald ‘21, started and ran in the past. She says, “When [Will] graduated this past year, he was looking for someone to take over the program because obviously it’s a really impactful program and wanted it to continue, and so I  asked if I could take it over for him, and so that’s how I got involved.” She volunteers for an organization called Resource West, a non-profit helping stabilize people in need in the Twin Cities and provide them with resources. The resources provided include Back to School Supplies, Winter gear to fight the cold, and childcare and academic assistance among a plethora of other programs. While explaining exactly how she participates in the program, Kate states, “I am sort of like the connection between the organization and the Blake families … [Blake families] buy a backpack and fill it with school supplies … [T]hen they drop them off at one of the Blake campuses, and I come by and collect all of them and deliver them to Resource West.” Her involvement with Resource West has taught her new perspectives about the community we live in. “I think what was the thing that struck me was how many students in the communities we live in are in such need that their parents can’t even afford to buy their backpack and I think it gave me a lot of perspective about how we sort of live in a bubble of privilege and people in our own neighborhoods are struggling so much.” 

Service remains a crucial component of Blake’s education, whether through clubs, Legacy Day, or the service opportunities offered throughout the year. Sackreiter explains, “I think [community service] gives you a chance to learn and practice skills that you might not get to learn and practice in the classroom setting in the same kinds of ways and sometimes that’s just learning how to be present to whoever that organization is serving. It’s like having job experience in a way, not necessarily getting paid in money but you’re getting skills and experience in a different setting.” She went on to explain how volunteering for others can bring satisfaction and happiness to one’s own life. 

Students that take service outside school may find new meaning in what it means to give back. Hsia noted about her work over the summer, “COVID was such a big issue it really impacted food insecurity in Minnesota, and I already knew that, but I got to see it first hand. Helping people at the food pantry made me realize how big the need was.”