April 16, 2014

California Academy Reaches Out

The word “toast” usually brings to
mind the metallic click of a crisp slice of bread popping out of the toaster
for butter and jam, or biting into a crunchy flavor burst that makes a person
feel good. In Garden Grove, California, TOAST pops up different feel-good
thoughts — it is an acronym for The Orangewood Academy Service Team. For the
students, it is a whole day off from scheduled classes twice a year. For the
school, it is sharing their mission. For the community, it is humanitarian aid.

Orangewood Academy TOAST students learn biology lessons while cleaning up local parks. [Photo: PUC Record]On TOAST days, teams of students
from elementary through high school deploy on a variety of community service
projects throughout Orange County and onto beaches south of Los Angeles. Oscar
Olivarria, campus pastor and religion teacher, coordinates community needs with
class sponsors for each grade team. He reports that recipients such as Second
Harvest Food Bank are glad when they get a call from TOAST, saying that it is a
big help.

“Service is a big part of what we
do. We push it a lot,” said Datha Tickner, OA principal. “Students are used to
going. Nobody grumbles or complains.”

Pacific Heaven Health Care Center
residents appreciated the seventh-grade TOAST choir and handmade cards.
"We weren’t just entertained,” residents said. “We were blessed."

Since junior high students are not
normally eager to sing, James Woods, OA music teacher, coached students to,
“Shake some hands, and flash your best smile.” When students reached out, Woods
saw many hugs. “They experienced giving of themselves,” he said. “I was blown
away by their mature behavior.”

Steve Zeller and Helen Dowser, OA
biology teachers, took eighth-, ninth- and 11th-grade TOAST kids to do habitat
restoration at parks. Teams planted 100 trees and cleaned up at West Haven
Park, Orange County Coast Keeper Garden, and Irvine Ranch Water District's
Natural Treatment System.

“Kids like getting dirty and
digging holes,” explained Tickner. Each year, students get to observe how their
habitat work grows, and Dowser ties it all in with biology class.

Orangewood takes the initiative to
honor students in volunteerism by nominating those exhibiting strong
humanitarian qualities for awards and scholarships that emphasize service, such
as the Pacific Union Caring Heart Award. The prestigious Ben Carson Scholars
Fund awarded scholarships to Charidan Jackson as a junior (2012) and senior
(2013), and awarded the school with a trophy.

“Teenagers feel like they’ve done
something,” Tickner said. “It’s a sense of purpose. They feel good about

Reposted from the Pacific Union Recorder