COLLEGE PLACE — Wednesday’s sun was warm, but not searing, and that was good news for College Place High School’s 400-plus students.

This was the second year for the high school’s service day that sends every student into the community to do some kind of helpful project, said high school Assistant Principal Ambra Bryant.

She launched the project last year, modeling it after Walla Walla University’s schoolwide community service day, Bryant said, working with businesses and organizations to see where and how student help will be useful.

Two days after the start of the school year here, high-schoolers were divided into small groups for the morning and sent out to do about two hours of work.

This year Bryant headed a clutch of seven students deposited at SonBridge Community Center on 12th Avenue. The center’s executive director, Norman Thiel, was ready for this.

“You’re helping me get prepared for a big event, a thank-you dinner for our volunteers,” he told the teens.

“By your being here today, you can help clean up some rough spots and make it even more welcoming.”

Not to mention, high school junior Rafe Wolpert said, “It’s better than school.”

Thiel took a little time to help the students understand what the community center does for people in the Walla Walla Valley, which includes offering low-cost and free medical and dental care.

“We help people on the edge,” and that includes the edge of homelessness, he said, noting SonBridge even has camping supplies to give out to those who are unhoused.

Much of the funding for the center’s mission comes from the on-site thrift store, Thiel said.

“But it’s not sustainable on just that.”

SonBridge must have the help of friends and neighbors to teach clients skills such as getting and staying employed, he told his audience.

“By being here, you are part of that educational process.”

With that, Thiel outlined a list of priority tasks, passed out rakes, broom and a shovel, then led Bryant and her volunteers past the building’s north side to clean up a side lawn, including weeding, smoothing bark and raking the clumps of grass left by a riding lawn mower.

“I’ve gotten behind,” he said with a rueful smile.

In Bryant’s opinion Thiel’s timing was just right to give her students insight into what it means to be a part of the College Place community, one that has stood up for public education.

“We have a phenomenal school. It is very beautiful. And the community made that happen, and they’re still paying for it,” Bryant said.

“It was a big ask, and it was a big give.”

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers education in the Walla Walla Valley. She also writes a column, Home Place, usually highlighting family life and slices of local life.

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