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Salk students benefit lives of others

Anabelle Benitez and Sean Lochrie, eighth-graders at Salk Middle School in north Spokane, helped raise money for charity. (Jesse Tinsley)
Anabelle Benitez and Sean Lochrie, eighth-graders at Salk Middle School in north Spokane, helped raise money for charity. (Jesse Tinsley)

Anabelle Benitez began to raise money for breast-cancer awareness after she learned her grandmother was diagnosed with the disease. Sean Lochrie saw a family in need and was moved to help in whatever way he could.

Together, the two Salk Middle School eighth-graders represent the many young people across the Inland Northwest who, both through their schools and on their own, devote time and effort toward improving life for those less fortunate.

“Social responsibility to me is when you take a look at your community, who needs help, who can you help, and what can you really do to make their life better,” Lochrie says.

Those are big words, big thoughts, for anyone. But they are particularly big for a 14-year-old. Yet, says Salk teacher Sean O’Connor, they are common among his students – those, at least, who are part of the school’s AVID program.

AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, which O’Connor defines as “an in-school academic support program for grades 7 through 12 that prepares students for college eligibility and success.” Part of the program’s curriculum at Salk, O’Connor says, involves community service.

Some of those service projects involve the school’s surrounding neighborhood. One in particular included raking what Pastor Dennis Haney, of nearby Westside Church of the Nazarene, described as “a mountain and a half of pine needles.”

Over a couple of class periods, Haney says, Salk AVID students raked enough needles from the church’s lawn to fill a dumpster. “And then they bagged up everything else,” he adds, “and what they bagged up was about two or three more dumpsters’ worth.”

“They did a lot of work,” he says.

Some of the service projects have been applied to the school itself.

“The students all separated into their own groups and they came up with different ways to make the Salk community, Salk attitudes and Salk everything – the tone of the school – better,” O’Connor says.

One in-school service project that Benitez participated in was called “Meet a Stranger, Make a Friend.” It involved writing questions designed to bring out the respondent’s particular personality.

“And we take two people who don’t know each other at all and have them answer the questions,” Benitez says. That would lead, she adds, to their “sort of finding something that they have in common.”

Benitez and Lochrie have their own differences. She loves to sing and wants to be a teacher. He loves athletics and wants to study science. What they have in common, though, is a shared belief in the value of helping others.

“I agree with Sean,” Benitez says. Social responsibility, she says, “is finding someone to help and finding something we can do for the people of our community. And later on, maybe, a bigger community.”

Right now, Benitez’s “someone” is her grandmother, in whose name she has raised $142.95 for the Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation.

“I’ve always wanted to do a fundraiser of some sort, but I’ve always been busy,” she says. Things changed, though, when her grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“And, I don’t know, people tend to help out more when they’ve experienced it themselves,” she says. “I guess I wanted to get the word out there that people need to donate and need to help out with this cause.”

Lochrie’s “someone” is an elderly man whom he met while going to work one day with his father.

“We ran into a World War II vet and his wife, and they could barely afford a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk and some butter,” Lochrie says. He and his father, he says, have been collecting food and money and taking it to the family’s house.

“He’s a World War II vet,” Lochrie says. “The idea of him and his wife starving really touched us, so we thought we could donate food and whatever else we could.”

O’Connor isn’t shy about citing reasons to single out both Benitez and Lochrie for individual praise.

“We picked these two kids because they model exactly what we’re looking for,” O’Connor says. “They have the grit to stick to everything and the inspiration to find new ideas and to follow through with it.”

Salk school counselor Katy Vancil stresses, though, that the two are part of a larger group of like-minded Salk students.

“I think both of our AVID classes, in general, represent a wave of students who are really excited about going beyond themselves and becoming productive members of society and caring for those who can’t care for themselves,” she says.

Pastor Haney couldn’t agree more. His experience with Salk’s AVID classes has given him a whole new feeling of hope for the future.

“You hear and see so much of the bad that you think, you know, where’s the youth of today?” Haney says. “Well, we’re seeing that there’s a huge amount of youth out there that understands social responsibility and are willing to stand up for what’s right. And do what’s right. And be what’s right.”

Dan Webster