La Grande High School seniors reach out to their community

Oct. 21—LA GRANDE — La Grande High School seniors added a new chapter to what is fast becoming a school tradition on Wednesday, Oct. 19.

The seniors did so by again closing their laptops and textbooks and opening their hearts to the community.

The students spent hours doing volunteer work in the community as part of the seventh annual Tigers Give Back Day, formerly named Senior Service Day. The students sang for senior citizens at retirement centers; cleaned up the Union County Fairgrounds, worked at the Mount Emily Recreation Area, helped split firewood at the Neighbors Together woodlot and did cleanup and painting work at Island City Elementary School.

Nearly all of the school's approximately 180 seniors participated in the day of service, and school leaders were impressed with the students' earnestness.

"I was super proud of them," LHS teacher Kristy Moore, who helped organize the program, said. "Whatever we asked of them, they were excited to jump in."

The students, in some cases, were assisted by community volunteers. Don Janes operated a splitting machine at the Neighbors Together wood lot on Umatilla Street with help from students who carried in pieces of wood from the lot. Janes, who sometimes worked almost an hour non-stop, was struck by the students' energy.

"I'm worn out but they are still going," he said.

The students who assisted Janes included Kaiden Fairless, who said his time working as a volunteer provided him with new insight.

"It helps me see the community in a little different light," he said. "It opened my eyes to a community which does exist."

Fairless said he enjoyed the chance to get out of the classroom, but that he planned to make up for it by devoting an hour to homework in the afternoon after school was out. Fairless added that he welcomed the opportunity Tigers Give Back Day provides to assist a community that has been good to him as he's grown up in La Grande.

"I cannot thank the community enough," he said.

At Island City Elementary School, students painted an equipment shed and removed debris from the tree-lined south and west edges of its field.

"It is nice to be able to give back and make things nice for the kids who are growing up here," LHS senior Jesus Escamilla said.

Many of the LHS seniors who assisted at Island City Elementary had attended school there, including Amy Hernandez.

"As someone who went to school here, I wanted to give something back," she said.

Tavis Dixon added that he liked the opportunity Tigers Give Back Day gave him to be with his classmates.

The seniors were led at Island City by Moore, who teaches language arts at the high school.

"I think this is one of the greatest projects the senior class takes part in," she said. "They give back to a to a community that has supported them all these years and get to be involved in projects they feel very good about."

Island City Elementary Principal Brett Smith was delighted to again have the seniors at his school again.

"They did an excellent job," he said. "This is one of my favorite days of the year."

Smith said that his fifth graders were particularly excited to see the seniors.

"They asked me, 'Can we do this when we get older?" he said.

Seniors in the LHS A capella Choir sang at the Grande Ronde Retirement Residence, Wildflower Lodge Assisted Living and La Grande Post Acute Rehab under the direction of choir director Kevin Durfee. The repertoire Durfee prepared included older songs he hoped the residents at the three centers remembered.

They did.

"A lot of them were singing along with us," he said.

Dick Mason is a reporter with The Observer. Contact him at 541-624-6016 or