Key Club students volunteer, help spruce up Homeless shelter

12 years ago

By Scott Mitchell Johnson
Staff Writer

PRESQUE ISLE — Students at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics (MSSM) in Limestone traded their books and computers for buckets of paint and brushes Saturday as they helped decorate interior walls at the Sister Mary O’Donnell Homeless Shelter in Presque Isle.

NE-MSSM SHELTER PAINTING-CLR-DC1-SHAR-49Staff photo/Scott Mitchell Johnson
Wesley Zeng of Presque Isle, a junior at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone, was one of a dozen students who helped paint interior walls Saturday at the Sister Mary O’Donnell Homeless Shelter in Presque Isle. Many of the students are members of the school’s Key Club. Zeng said he likes to sign up for volunteering opportunities because “it’s fun and it’s good for the community.”

“We have a total of 24 students involved in the project,” said Cyndi Trapnell, resident instructor at MSSM. “Twelve are painting today — six in the morning and six in the afternoon — and another 12 will be painting next Saturday.

“I asked the Key Club if they’d like to participate in the Community Service Day and help paint the shelter, and once they signed up, I opened it up to the entire school,” she said. “I think it’s important for the students to get out in the community and help out as they focus solely on their academics. It’s more of a break for them to get out and do community service because they get to interact with a different city and society. Plus I think it’s good that the students get exposed to what it’s like at a homeless shelter because then they’ll know how fortunate they are to go to the school that they go to and what they have to look forward to in their future like going to college. Doing community service also looks really good on their college applications.”

According to Lisa Green, program manager/manager of transitional housing for Homeless Services of Aroostook, the shelter is in the process of being painted.

“Cyndi contacted us, they came in and did a tour, asked us what we would like done and what they could do to volunteer. We are in the middle of painting the shelter right now to make it more homey and cozy — we’ve been working on painting since this summer — and they were like, ‘Yea! We can paint,’ so that’s what they’re doing,” she said. “They’ve donated items, they are collecting items for Christmas for our folks, and they’ve also volunteered to set up a computer lab for us which will help our residents to do job and housing searches.”

The MSSM students painted the dining area, a restroom and hallways. They will come back again to paint individual rooms.

Homeless Services of Aroostook purchased the paint and brushes.

Green said it’s a huge time-saver for the staff when volunteers lend a hand.

NE-MSSM SHELTER PAINTING-DC2-SHARPO-49Staff photo/Scott Mitchell Johnson
Lil Costello of Milo is a student at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics in Limestone. She donated time Saturday to help paint the interior walls at the Sister Mary O’Donnell Homeless Shelter in Presque Isle. The painting project was part of the school’s Key Club Community Service Day.

“Having organizations like the MSSM Key Club come in and volunteer is crucial to our organization. We run on a skeleton crew; we can’t always get to everything that needs to be done,” she said. “When folks come in it frees us up to be able to do our jobs and then they do the things that we don’t necessarily have time to get to. It’s a huge help.

“Also it gets folks into our shelter to understand what our shelter is all about … that it’s not a scary place, that our residents are friendly and are just like us. Any one of us could end up in a shelter at any time. There are a lot of stereotypes about who would be in a shelter and what a shelter is like, so this is an eye-opener for volunteers,” she said. “It’s really exciting to get the kids into the shelter. Kids have so much power to influence our community and their parents and friends. Hopefully these kids will go back to their school and speak to their friends — and family — and tell everybody what a wonderful, welcoming place our shelter is, which — in turn — will spark interest for other folks and they’ll come in and volunteer their time or make donations.”

Green said the MSSM Key Club is the “first specific school group” to volunteer at the shelter.

“We’ve had Girl Scouts come through, we’ve had some interest from the Christian schools, and the Micmacs have expressed some interest in having their kids meeting our kids, so we’re starting to get a lot more young folks in the shelter coming into volunteer which is fantastic,” she said. “We love to have them.”

MSSM junior Wesley Zeng of Presque Isle said he “likes to sign up for volunteering opportunities.”

“It’s fun and it’s good for the community,” he said. “I helped paint the dorms at MSSM last year and I also helped paint at a park in Limestone, so I don’t mind getting a little messy. Each time I do some community service — a year or so later — I can look back and realize the impact of things that I’ve done. It makes me feel more accomplished to do community service.

“The holidays put everyone in the kind of mood where they’re thinking about everyone else — not just about themselves,” he said. “I’m coming back next Saturday to do more. On a normal school weekend, if I didn’t do something like this I’d probably just sleep, and coming and helping out is a lot more productive than sleeping.”

The Sister Mary O’Donnell Homeless Shelter has room for 30 occupants.

“Right now we have 18 residents — three of them are children — which is a little bit lower than we’ve had over the last six or seven months,” said Green. “We were ranging anywhere from six to 10 kids at any given time so we see a lot of children here.

“Our average stay is only about 31 days. Folks don’t typically stay very long because we have in-house case management and we also have sister agencies that come in with case managers. We work with our folks as far as finding employment, benefits, health care and housing, so our turnaround is actually pretty quick,” she said.

While also in the Star City Saturday, other Key Club students rang bells for the local Salvation Army chapter at Walmart.

Key Club members also assisted the Ladies of Saint Anne by decorating the St. Louis Catholic Church in Limestone for the holidays.