Making the Grade: Walton kids use classroom lessons to serve community

For students at Walton High in east Cobb, there’s more to life than essays, pop quizzes and Friday night football. They’ve also looked at the community around them and decided to find a way to make a positive contribution.

But being a teen can be a hurdle when it comes to volunteering, a lesson Chad Carrodus learned first-hand. As a ninth grader two years ago, Carrodus and a friend were eager to roll up their sleeves, only to find that there were several hurdles to overcome first.

“There were various factors, but age was often the primary issue,” said Carrodus, now a 16-year-old Walton junior. “Even after we made contact with different places, we had to fill out releases and all sorts of forms. It was difficult to even get in the door at some places.”

Carrodus surmised that more of his peers might want to donate their talents to worthy causes if the process were smoother. So he created the Walton Children’s Charities as a way to connect willing volunteers with organizations that needed a shot of youthful energy.

“I thought if we could take care of all the technicalities, we could get a lot more students volunteering,” said Carrodus. “So we started last year with a club, thinking it would be a fun way to get started. And it turned out we had 80 volunteers sign up, pay dues for the T-shirt and support our events. Our whole platform is making volunteering easy, so we come up with a schedule of events we’re coordinating and organizing.”

One of the club’s first undertakings was donating 150 backpacks to Woodson Elementary in northwest Atlanta. The positive response from students and the primary school’s community was so strong that Carrodus said “the pressure was on” to continue.

“We formed a board, started contacting other places and worked with a lawyer and advisor about getting nonprofit status,” he said.

Colleen Ham, a Walton English teacher and the club’s sponsor, said the project is a good example of what can happen when students take initiative.

“The response has amazing, from 12 students the first year to almost 200 this year,” she said. “That just shows that, given the opportunity, students are interested in doing charitable works, even though, because of their ages, that can be a problem. A lot of these students don’t even drive yet, so their opportunities are limited.”

In addition to benefiting the community, the students are applying academic lessons to the real world, said Ham.

“They have grown it from a little school club to incorporating into their own nonprofit organization by taking the skills they’re learning at Walton and putting them to fabulous, real-life application,” she said.

A few weeks ago, the group held an informational fair and handed out more than 400 applications to interested students. The number of members has now reached 174.

“The simplicity is the main attraction,” said Carrodus. “This is an easy way to help students get community service hours. But at the same time, I can see after every event that it’s impacted students in a positive manner. And our members are having a lot of fun.”

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