Rep. Fitz Steele and First Lady Jane Beshear recently recognized students from Hazard High School for their volunteer efforts this past winter.
HAZARD – Christmas was only days away when the unthinkable happened and more than 40 people living in the Eblen Apartments lost everything as a fire ravaged a large portion of the building.
Many living in the apartments, which had been converted from the former Hazard High School, were low-income and had few options. But around them the community rallied, especially a group of local students who, through the encouragement of their principal, are becoming increasingly familiar with service to others.
These students’ selfless efforts were recently recognized during a ceremony with Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear, who awarded them with the Governor’s Youth Group Volunteer Service Award for their volunteer relief efforts on behalf of those who lost everything to the fire.
Their relief efforts began after Hazard High School Principal Happy Mobelini attended a community meeting in the days that followed the fire. That meeting was meant to organize aid for the fire victims. Mobelini suggested they use the high school as a staging point to drop off supplies. The word got out and the donations began pouring in.
School wasn’t in session at the time, and with an outpouring of support for those families also came hundreds of donations. Mobelini noted that the students sacrificed their holiday break to help in the effort, but it also became an effort for them to help their fellow students.
“We were on Christmas break, and had a couple of kids that lived there (in the apartment building), so that made it than much more personal,” he said.
The students volunteered their time to help fire victims by hosting and managing a drop-off location for donated items at the high school. The students sifted through all sorts of items, from clothing to house wares, and got them ready for delivery.
The students also delivered bedding, furniture and other items to the 17 families who lost their homes in the fire. Along with families and community partners, they collected donations to pay deposits for housing and utilities.
The students also volunteered their time to provide the families with a Christmas Eve dinner, and the school partnered with the community to raise funds to provide temporary and permanent housing. Nearly all of the donations came from or went through the school.
Now, 15 of those families are living again in permanent housing.
While this one effort led to their recent recognition, the truth is that community service in Hazard High School isn’t anything out of the ordinary. Students routinely help with other efforts, such as food drives and gathering supplies for the American Red Cross.
Mobelini said there is such a local need for volunteer efforts like these, and he views service to the community at a young age as a necessary step to a complete education, and also a step that will lead to continued service later in life.
“I think community service is probably as big a part of your education as anything you ever do,” he said. “I just think if we can get every kid at the high school to do community service, they’ll continue to do it the rest of their lives.”
Laiken Sandlin was one of those students who gave her time to help others in need. She recently graduated from Hazard High School and is ready to begin her college career, but it seems that community service is something she will take with her.
“We have accomplished so much not in just academics but also in volunteerism,” she said. “The fire victims was one of many community service projects that we did. We did anything from putting a roof on a house to selling tulips on Main Street. The great thing about being a part of Hazard is that not just one person gets involved, but the whole school puts in the effort!”
The residents of Hazard often show so much support for the school, that Mobelini noted volunteering is also a way of giving back. And despite any view of today’s youth as being disinterested, he’s confident that the opposite is much more the case.
“I think kids will surprise people,” he said. “I think that if you have organization and give them something to do, they’ll always come through for you.”