Alanni Riley’s family battled poverty, nearly becoming homeless at one point.
She’s seen some of her friends and fellow classmates at Maynard Evans High School end up living on the streets at times. For the 18-year-old senior, giving back is important.
So instead of sleeping in or spending her Saturday afternoon parked in front of a television, she got up early to pack food kits for the needy during her school’s second annual Trojan Service Day. She was among nearly 300 students and volunteers who headed a string of community-service efforts from packing hygiene and food kits for the needy to beautifying their Pine Hills neighborhood by picking up trash and gardening.
“Helping others is important. My mom grew up poor and didn’t always have a lot of food, so she’s always encouraged me to give back whenever I could,” Riley said. “Not only are we helping others, some of us are also helping clean up the area and make this a better place to live.”
The event was started to help students get involved in their community and help promote a culture of giving back, organizers said. This year the number of volunteers catapulted as Starbucks and City Year Orlando, a group that targets at-risk youth to encourage graduation, lent a hand.
Volunteers helped out at Second Harvest Food Bank of Central Florida, UCP of Central Florida and the Central Florida Urban League during the morning event. The school also held professional-development sessions on interview skills and resume building as heavy rains stunted some of the efforts outside.
“We believe in giving back, and schools shouldn’t just focus on academics but focus on a holistic approach to develop students and ready them for the future,” event organizer Jarvis Wheeler said. “There’s an old stigma still attached to this area and many students carry that on their backs, but it’s our job to show these students and the community that they can change all of that.”
Wheeler, 28, was an Evans student and remembers getting an F grade at one point. He now heads the Evans Community School, a hub at the center of campus that provides free food, medical treatment and mentoring.
“My hope is to get these kids involved in their community and help inspire them to go to college, and a lot of that goes back to these service projects,” he said.
Riley said even though she’s going to graduate in May and will head off to college, she plans to attend the service day again next year.
“I love these events and being able to help someone who really needs it,” she said. “You really get to bring someone hope.”
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