ANDERSON -- Saws and trees, rather than pen and paper, weren't really what The Crossing Educational Center students were expecting during their first week of classes. But that's exactly what some of them got.
A group of about 25, including visiting students from The Crossing campuses in Elkhart and South Bend, headed out to New Purpose Ministry, 2404 Dewey St., Wednesday to cut down unwanted trees on the property.
While they were at it, they picked up trash and took requests to cut down "a number of trees" in the neighborhood, said Tamie Tatum, who works on community development for The Crossing, Anderson Community Schools' new alternative school partner.
In the beginning, Marcus Manuel, 17, thought of the work as just a school requirement. Each student must complete 10 hours of community service per year.
But once Manuel got started, he said, it really felt like they were making an impact.
"It was fun. It was cool. It felt good," he said.
Especially when neighbors saw the students working and asked whether they could help, he added.
Matyese Stith, 16, felt much the same way.
"At first, it was like, 'Why are we doing this?' Then it was, 'Hey, we helped the community,'" Stith said. "It all felt good at the end of the day."
Manuel hadn't really thought about participating in community service before. Now that he has, he would like to do more hands-on projects.
It's not easy work, he added, but he'd like to help clean up the city's neighborhoods.
And he wants more teens to get involved, so that residents see youth out in the community and "know kids our age are not just bad."
Stith said he's helped people do tasks such as cleaning out their garages, but he had done nothing like the first week's community project.
"It's important to help the community look better," Stith said, "and it helps you be a better person."
Now Stith wants to get out and do more. He said he'd like The Crossing to do a project every week, perhaps working with the homeless, handing out food and going to nursing homes.
Instructor Jeremy Bechtel said the center hopes to "spark" an interest in community service among the students.
"We try to tie everything back to our core values," he said. "We feel it's important to empower our students and get them out into the community."
The Crossing serves high school students who haven't thrived in a traditional school setting. The school staff aims to give such students "a new perspective on things," Bechtel added.
In addition to helping clean up the community, the students got the chance to interact with other teens who have similar backgrounds.
"They laughed with us, and we laughed with them," Manuel said.
Since Wednesday, Tatum said, The Crossing has received requests from residents to help with projects. The center is still seeking community partnerships.
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