Visitors to Great Bend this coming weekend will find a more clean and tidy city thanks to the efforts of Great Bend High School students. They donned bright chartreuse shirts Wednesday morning and hit the streets of the city on a mission to give back to the community. By the time the school day was done, walls were painted, gardens and landscaping tidied, storm windows installed, studies completed and lots of cleaning done.
And because of their efforts, both last year and this year, Great Bend High School was named one of five recipients of a $500 Seed Grant given by Volunteer Kansas.
“We were so impressed by the diverse applications this year and were especially excited by the number of organizations outside of Wichita that applied. It is always difficult to decide which projects to fund because we know all of them are beneficial,” said Volunteer Kansas Executive Director Nola Brown. “In the end, we focused on projects that had the potential to engage the largest number of volunteers since the goal of Volunteer Kansas is to increase volunteerism in our state.”
More than 900 students took part. Groups of anywhere from 4 to 20 spread out, offering their services to several organizations, non-profit and profit alike (the for-profit companies agreed to provide cash donations to the United Way of Central Kansas in exchange for the services of the students.) In the process, the students gained valuable experience and learned something about the city they live in.
A group of students who volunteered at the Barton County Historical Society helped clean out the period garden that is part of the outdoor village, learning gardening techniques and how to tell the difference between weeds and the perennial favorites brought to the Great Bend area by pioneers. And others toured the famed Lustron House and helped with the periodic cleaning required— even in an unoccupied house.
Some students helped city crews by stripping tape and the remnants of signs from light poles along Broadway, while others helped with projects at the Great Bend Municipal Airport and the Kansas Wetlands Education Center.
One group, led by English teacher Erin Bentley, took part in a study of the streets in Great Bend around several schools. They were walking along Monroe Street between 24th St. and Broadway. What they found was, despite the manicured yards, the street wasn’t the best place for people on foot or bike to travel. With no sidewalks on either side, and some of the roads in need of repair, they found one bright spot. There wasn’t a lot of car traffic.
The results of studies like the one the students performed could be useful for determining safe routes for a Walking School Bus program like the one Riley Elementary School Principal JoAnn Blevins has been approved to request a grant for, said Volunteers in Action volunteer coordinator Linn Hogg. It could also be used to help inventory the needs of the city to implement a Complete Streets program like the one that was discussed at a public meeting at the Great Bend Convention Center later Wednesday evening.
“We want Great Bend youth to live here, work here and raise their families here someday,” said Great Bend Community Coordinator Christina Hayes. “This is one small step that helps everyone involved. The City of Great Bend is very proud to be part of it all.”