In their volunteer work, BurnsvilleStrong students’ creativity, innovation help build community in a socially-distanced world
The mission of the BurnsvilleStrong organization at Burnsville High School (BHS) is to unify, strengthen and inspire the community. Despite COVID sticking around for more than a year and creating barriers to programming, the teams of students were able to innovate and get creative in carrying out service projects they’d typically do in a normal year to deliver on their mission.
From reading books to elementary classes on Google Meets to planning, organizing and carrying out a community-wide donations drive to creating cards for local healthcare workers fighting COVID, these and other BurnsvilleStrong projects helped to build community and lift others up during a time when many people felt isolated and cut off from the world.
BurnsvilleStrong even in a pandemic
BHS juniors Arykah Jones and Hlina Tessema, who read books and tutored elementary students throughout the year, agreed that their volunteer work gave them a sense of purpose.
“I think it’s important to stay together as a community,” said Arykah. “For me, it provides stability.”
Both Arykah and Hlina met with different classes each week throughout the year, joining a teacher’s class during the day and presenting to the classroom. They both felt that having this commitment, even though at times they didn’t feel up for it, helped them get through the year. The girls also felt that the kids looked up to them as role models, which was very motivating for them.
Hlina added, “Taking the time to get to know others, whether that’s through volunteering or joining clubs or other activities, builds community. One thing that I’ve learned from my experiences with BurnsvilleStrong and volunteering is that it’s important to make those connections.”
Seniors Alexis Bunnell, Andrew Bunnell and Zoe Lewis worked on “Hospital Happiness,” creating and delivering cards to hospitals. The students made presentations and shared with middle and elementary schools, encouraging them to make digital cards that were then printed and sent to hospitals to be hung up in their hallways.
Alexis and Andrew said that they’ve gained a lot of skills from their experiences and volunteering this year at school.
“Right away, words like independence, responsibility and communication come to mind,” said Alexis and Andrew. “We have gained so many of the soft skills, like personality, attitude, flexibility, motivation … skills that we may not have learned directly from the classroom. These skills will be a huge factor in our future success and will separate us in the workplace.”
“Building community means making the space around us better,” said Zoe. “I think there is always room for us to make improvements in the place we live, and the more we build it up and learn new things and apply it to aspects of our life, the more improvements we will see.”
And that’s exactly what these students did – made the space around us better.
BHS has many student leadership groups, like BurnsvilleStrong, that work to create the best culture and environment for all students. Oftentimes, these groups come together to solve problems and lift each other up, strengthening one another and building community along the way.
This year, BurnsvilleStrong teamed up with the National Honor Society and Student Council to offer a COVID-friendly donations drive. Donation boxes were stationed at every school and students spent a week collecting food items and winter gear for local families. They collected nearly 800 food donations and more than 330 winter gear items for the community.
“I am extremely proud of the talented and caring students at BHS and their commitment to serve in our community,” said National Honor Society co-advisor and Spanish teacher MaryLou Dundon. “COVID brought specific challenges this year, such as not being able to work together in groups ... but rather than shutting down, our student leadership teams recognized some specific needs, got creative in their efforts to plan out opportunities to help others, drafted health and safety plans, and continued their work to make our community stronger.”
For many of the students, having to connect online actually made it easier to participate and contribute. Lack of transportation or family conflicts had previously made it more difficult to volunteer and connect with others at school or in the community.
“In almost every aspect of our lives as students, from sports and student groups to the classroom, we had to adapt to our new reality,” said Alexis. “This only made us stronger, and it has shown that we are extremely capable of adapting to new environments and situations. It has been a real-world learning experience for all of us. We have had to be extra vigilant in our communication with peers, teachers and staff so that we would be able to carry out the service projects we planned.”
Andrew added, “And despite the many things that were not in our favor, we had an extremely successful year in BurnsvilleStrong!”
Although there is no service requirement for students at BHS, during the 2020-21 school year (and in a pandemic) students logged more than 11,000 individual volunteer hours. Some of the other ways students made a difference in the community included running errands for the elderly or health-compromised relatives and neighbors, chalking positive messages on sidewalks at schools, working at the local food shelf, creating Valentines for kids in the hospital, donating blood, volunteering with the Community Pantry 191 and sponsoring families in need.
Blazing a new trail. Becoming a beacon.
At the end of their high school experience, BHS students are able move on to the next step with an incredible array of experiences. But most importantly, they’ll be equipped with tools to navigate their journey, no matter what life throws their way.
Through their experiences at BHS, students are ready to Blaze a new trail and become a beacon in the world.
“Being a part of the One91 community, which has offered countless opportunities to help the community and better myself, has helped me grow into a more confident person. One91 has had a huge impact on who I am as a person today!” said Zoe.
“BHS and One91 will always be our home,” said Alexis. “When you have been here for so many years, you start to directly feel the impact of growing up in a kind and loving community. With the support of all the teachers, counselors, and staff, we have been able to achieve all that we have set our minds to.”