Friday, August 5, 2011

Volunteer service could be worth a varsity letter for high schoolers

Since 2001, an ever-increasing number of high schools in Pierce County have partnered with United Way to offer students the chance to earn a varsity letter in community service. The first year of the program, seven students were awarded letters; this year, 408 youth were honored at an awards ceremony. By comparison, about 5,000 students receive varsity letters for sports each year at Pierce County high schools.

Rep. Ruth Kagi would like to see Pierce’s County’s program go statewide, so more students can be given the opportunity to earn a varsity letter for their volunteer service efforts. To discuss ways of expanding the program across Washington, this week she met with state Superintendent Randy Dorn, Executive director of United Way of Pierce County Rick Allen, and representatives from the Gift of Giving Foundation in Shoreline, which has also successfully encouraged and rewarded high school students to volunteer in their community. Superintendent Dorn agreed to write letters of support to school superintendents and principals of high schools throughout the state to encourage them to adopt the varsity letter program in their own districts.

In Pierce County, United Way receives and screens the applications for the letter award each year. In order to earn a letter, a student must be in grade 9-12, be in good standing with at least a 2.0 GPA, and volunteer a minimum of 145 hours between April 1 and March 31, 50 of which must be outside of school activities. The minimum number of hours was chosen based on the amount of time high school athletes dedicate to their sport, and was also deemed to be attainable.

“Participation in community service builds an understanding of the importance of community, and teaches valuable skills in much the same way that participation in team sports does,” Rep. Kagi said. “The success of this program in Pierce County can easily be duplicated in other counties, and our communities will benefit greatly from it.”