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Pine River-Backus students engage with community

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With the guidance of AmeriCorps Promise Fellows Bobby Brunhuber and Rachel Biggar, Pine River-Backus High School students are contributing throughout the community.

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The AmeriCorps Fellows and their students met Wednesday, Dec. 11, at the Hidden Jewels Thrift Store in Pine River to help sort more than 300 items of clothing that they had collected during the week after Thanksgiving.

“I feel pretty good,” said Maddy Pederson, 12, Pine River. “It makes me feel good to help other people who don’t have many clothes.”

The group sorted through bags of clothing to look for stains or damage before sorting them into piles to be sold through Hidden Jewels or donated to other charities. Courtni Peterson, 14, led them in this effort. Peterson has been volunteering with the thrift store for approximately three years under the guidance of her mother, who is the manager there.

“I was happy for them. I was happy that they were coming to have the chance to help out, because a lot of students don’t have that chance to help out in the community,” Peterson said. “It’s a good experience. It may not seem fun at first, going to The Warehouse might seem more fun, but it’s really fun here, too. It’s a blast.”

Students working under the AmeriCorps Fellows have done many activities within the community over the years. This year the group has volunteered alongside Faith in Action, and it is scheduled to assist in a project with Rural Renewable Energy Alliance on Jan. 15.

“We love to work with groups that have a history or an interest in contributing to re-engaging the youth with their community,” said Brunhuber, a Backus resident who has been working with AmeriCorps since September.

About two dozen students participate on a voluntary basis, though some are encouraged to join. Volunteers are also given incentives for participating, such as snacks and root beer float parties, but many join just for the satisfaction of helping out.

“They also get a sense of accomplishment and a sense that they own something, they can do something, have entitlement and leadership,” Brunhuber said. “It’s huge for their confidence.”

Pine River-Backus has had AmeriCorps Promise Fellows for three years, but this is the first year the school has had two fellows at the same time. These fellows work through a program called Minnesota Alliance with Youth with attempts to help reduce school dropout rates and increase student engagement with their communities.

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