For a bowl-a-thon, students get sponsors and collect money when they bowl. For a bike-a-thon, they bicycle. For a serve-a-thon, they get financial backers for their service. And that's what Spring Hill Christian Academy students chose for their most recent fundraiser. The students tackled three projects. The elementary-age children spent a recent sunny morning cleaning Anderson Snow Park. The middle school students helped a social services organization, Love Your Neighbor, organize the donations in its warehouse. The high schoolers helped paint a Habitat for Humanity house and lay sod around it. The students had matching T-shirts that showed hands clasped in the shape of a heart. The shirts read: "Hands that Help Hearts that Serve."
At the park, first- and second-graders picked up litter around the baseball diamonds, playground and soccer fields. Third- through fifth-graders weeded and mulched the shrubbery .
"We knew it was a facility with a lot of use," said principal Mike Willis, 43, "and we knew that there were budget cuts."
In exchange for their service, Willis added, the county Parks and Recreation Department gave students use of the pavilion. When it was time for lunch, the students were rewarded with grilled hot dogs.
"We've been picking weeds," said fifth-grader Alexis Nigro, 10, "and we've been putting mulch down to help the community."
Fourth-grader Juliana Maldonado, 10, explained what serve-a-thon means: "Serve-a-thon is to clean the park and to raise money. The serve-a-thon will make a better Earth for us to live on."
Fifth-grader Markel Santiago, 11, said, "I just think that we can help the environment, get fresh air and just do it for Jesus Christ."
One day earlier, the middle-schoolers were at the Love Your Neighbor warehouse, facing mounds of donations to hang, sort and arrange.
Sixth-grade science teacher Jenny Lopez, 47, explained why this type of activity is good for students.
"Children today, so many of them have so much," she said. "They've never experienced need. It's a great life experience to be able to help others."
Math, Bible, American history and P.E. teacher Joel Wilson, 32, agreed. "It's great to serve the community, and it teaches the kids to serve," he said.
Sixth-grader Keano Martinez, 12, grasped the point.
"I love doing this," he said, "because I love helping the community. These people who have no houses, it's nice to do this for them. I love to do this. I'd rather do this than hang out with friends."
Parent volunteer Traci Jobin, 45, organized the serve-a-thon and spent the day with the middle school students. She explained why the school considered a serve-a-thon.
"We're always doing fundraisers," she said, and she didn't want to do a meaningless sales event. "Our students need to learn to give back to the community. Our main goal was to teach the children."
Jobin pointed out that as Christians, the students need to learn "that there are people less fortunate than they are."
Several miles away, the school's high school students were helping with the finishing touches on a Habitat for Humanity home. Hernando County Habitat for Humanity coordinator Debbie Prescott was impressed with the help.
"I'm very proud of them — for the school and the kids stepping up and giving back to the community. When it works out like this, it's a beautiful thing," she said.
The older students saw the value in what they were doing.
"It gets us ready for what we will expect in life," said ninth-grader Ben Wheeler, 14. "And with the way the economy is going, we need to help everyone we can."
Ninth-grader William Rodriquez, 14, had another point of view.
"I felt it was a new experience. I was nervous. I didn't want to mess up someone else's house," he said. "I just want to show that I care for the community, and I want to make the community a better place to be."
Ninth-grader Lauren Padillo, 14, was painting a closet.
"I think that it's important for us to help out the community," she said. "Most teenagers are consumed with friends and computers, and this way we'll help our community and get more involved."