Community Education

More Peninsula students earn varsity community service letters than ever before

Posted on June 26th, 2023 By:

A record number of high school students in the Peninsula School District earned varsity letters in community service this school year. Sixty-four students spent a minimum of 100 hours helping others in various ways throughout the county.

In years past, the requirement for receiving a varsity letter was 145 hours per school year. But, after more consideration of the reality of student life, the school district decided to change it, said Erin O’Neil executive director of career and technical education for the district.

“We looked at our policy, and for young people who are in sports, and who work, 100 hours is still a lofty goal, so we changed it from 145 to 100 hours,” she said. “We changed one more thing. Students who earn the letter all four years now have the opportunity to earn a silver cord to wear at graduation.”

The rules

Students can volunteer in any way they choose, but at least 25 percent of those hours must be donated within Pierce County. Anything the student is already involved with, such as Scouts, doesn’t count. The idea is to give beyond what you’re already doing. Also, the separation of church and state applies to the volunteer hours, O’Neil said.

“It’s great if you help with church service, and youth services, it just doesn’t count toward these particular hours,” she said. 

Peninsula School District students who earned varsity letters in community service in 2022-23.

Among the more popular organizations students volunteer with are Food Backpacks for Kids, SAVE Thrift Store, the YMCA, TideFest, Tacoma Rescue Mission, and Miracle Ranch.

Maddison Gaffaney, who just completed her freshman year at Gig Harbor High School, said she has always volunteered and just continued with it during the school year. She volunteered with Law Enforcement Youth Camp, and Camp Oh ah Lay Lay as a counselor assistant, helped with learning celebration events at Pioneer and Discovery elementary schools, and was a costume manager for Goodman Middle School’s production of Wizard of Oz. Last summer she helped with the Backpack for Kids program.

“There is no better thing than helping someone else in your community, and you can feel good about it,” she said.

Bicycle donations

Gavin Henrickson is a rising senior at Peninsula High School who donated time at WinterFest. He also helps out at the SAVE Thrift Store, testing electronics and pricing products.

Plus he has been running his own program to get used and repaired bicycles to kids in need. Henrickson, a mountain bike enthusiast, launched a bike repair business when he was a sophomore. He said he began getting calls from people who wanted to just donate a bike they no longer wanted.

Henrickson took the bikes, repaired them, cleaned them, and partnered with local nonprofits such as Red Barn Youth Center in Key Center, and FISH Food Bank in Gig Harbor to get them distributed. He got so busy with the donations that he said he has stopped the repair business and focuses on donations.

“I hope to be able to donate 100 bikes by the end of summer,” he said. 

Henrickson said he is looking for more bicycle donations. If you have a bike to donate, call him at 253-225-7832.

Rising freshmen have the opportunity to begin logging community service hours this summer, O’Neil said. Students keep track of their hours through a Google sheet, and while O’Neil said she checks on things if something doesn’t seem quite right, for the most part it’s an honor system.