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Willmar, Minn., ALC students give back to the community

Sara Anna Diaz Romero, left, and Lupita Rivas, second left, work on a quilt May 14 during Monica Villars' community service class at the Willmar Area Learning Center at Garfield School. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- Robbie Warwick has learned something important in the Service Learning class at the Willmar Area Learning Center -- "Sticking through it even if you don't like what you're doing."

Warwick, a 17-year-old junior at the alternative high school in Willmar, was living out that lesson this week as he helped to tie a quilt of flowered fabrics edged in pale green and backed in light blue. It will be given away when it's done. Pushing and pulling a needle through the layers of fabric and then tying little knots in the yard wasn't his idea of a good time, but he kept at it.

Teacher Monica Villars said she liked the camaraderie she and the students build while they are sitting together working on finishing the quilt.

"It's a cooperative effort," she said. "And I think there's pride and the experience of doing something for someone else."

Villars' class makes quilts throughout the year. Students take turns cutting squares, ironing them and using the sewing machine. They use a zigzag stitch around the edges and straight stitch blocks together.

"Everybody's learned; everybody's practiced," she said.

The quilts are for "people that need them," said Savannah Rodriguez, a 16-year-old ninth-grader.

At the end of March, students gave a quilt to a woman who works in the ALC office for her husband, who has cancer.

"She started crying," Rodriguez said, she hugged everyone. They have also given one to a retired staff member who has cancer.

Warwick missed those presentations and said, "I'd like to be there to see somebody get one."

When the school has drawings for students who have done nice things for others, a quilt is usually one of the prizes, and it's one of the first things to be chosen, Villars said.

Villars' classes have given quilts to local charities and one went to a family that had lost its home in a fire.

The class has taken on other projects. Students picked up garbage in the park by the school this spring, and they folded 5,000 luminaries for the Relay for Life this summer.

Everyone has had a favorite job in the class. For Rodriguez, it's tying the quilts; for Vanessa Diaz, 16, it's ironing. Warwick said he preferred doing things outside, but he's taken his turn at all the quilt jobs, too.

Villars said the students were surprised that each of those 5,000 luminaries would be sponsored at the relay.

Service Learning is one of the few electives for students at the ALC, Villars said.

Students who may not have thought much about volunteering before get a taste of it in the class, she said, and it enhances their citizenship skills and social skills.

In the class, students watch the movie "Pay it Forward" and can earn credit for doing other volunteer projects outside class.

Villars is particularly pleased when she hears stories about students from the school going out of their way to help someone else. She noticed that Rodriguez showed Warwick and Diaz how to tie the knots on the quilt. "I like when the kids help each other."

"I like to help people out," Rodriguez said.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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