October 12, 2005 - After the last bell rings on an average Monday afternoon a handful of Orange Grove Middle School students file into a classroom and prepare to help others.

On average, only about nine students are part of the school-sponsored club. Even though the number of participants may be small the desire to help others is great.

"It's kind of sad there is not a lot of involvement," Marti Sollenberger, 11, said.

The teen volunteers are advised by special education teacher Nancy Brown. One of the main reasons for the lack of interest on the students part, Brown speculates, may be because there are so many clubs and after school activities in which middle school students already participate.

"I have a lot of competition," Brown said. "There's a lot going on."

With the busy schedules and homework deadlines students have to contend with, Brown is pleased students can find the time to participate in the club.

She has always been involved in helping the community, and when she was approached a few years back to sponsor a teen volunteer club she jumped at the chance, she said.

Each week the students get together and organize a volunteer effort. It doesn't matter if it involves reading books to nursing home patients, creating holiday cards or feeding the homeless, the students are always up for the challenge, Brown said.

For the past eight years, one of the most popular volunteer activities has been cooking and serving a meal to the children at the Ronald McDonald House of Southern Arizona, 2230 E. Speedway Blvd.

The Ronald McDonald House is a temporary home-away-from-home for families of children who are being treated for serious illnesses at a local medical facility, according to its Web site.

Brown said many of the students have no idea what the Ronald McDonald House is and what purpose it serves in the community.

"They are thinking they're going to see a big hamburger machine," Brown said, adding that once the students see the families and what the organization is all about everything changes for them.

"It's their favorite activity," she said.

While there is need everywhere, the Catalina Foothills School District is one of the more affluent areas in Pima County. The club is a way for students who may never have seen real need to open their eyes and view others and what obstacles they may be dealing with, Brown said.

Over the last few months, students have been collecting school supplies for students in Iraq. Operation Iraqi Children was cofounded by Hollywood actor Gary Sinise more than a year ago. The organization ships the donated supplies to schools in Iraq.

Brown has family serving in the armed forces in Iraq and thought this would be a great way to get the teen volunteer club involved as well as other Orange Grove students. It is a way to help students, just like themselves, thousands of miles away, she said.

More than 35 packets have been made. Each packet includes pencils, scissors, rulers, folders and other items. There are 13 different items included within the clear plastic bag, Brown said. Packets are made so each student in Iraq will get a fully-stocked package of school supplies.

In addition to helping other students far from Tucson, the volunteer club likes to reach out to the local community and lend a helping hand or just read a book.

The students visited Sunrise Drive Elementary School, also within the Catalina Foothills School District, and read to about 20 students in the afterschool program.

Youngsters gathered around to hear stories being read aloud from the older, middle school students.

Sure the elementary students were a bit rowdy at times, but that all comes with the territory, said Kyle Campbell, 11.

Campbell, a sixth-grader, said she loved reading to the students. It seemed surreal to be back at her old elementary school.

"It was fun," she said. "You're so used to going to school here and now you're coming to visit."

Also reading to the students was seventh-grader Brittney Itule, 12. Being part of the volunteer club is a way to help others with things that she takes for granted, she said.

"You see the kids and how happy they are," Campbell said, adding that seeing the smiles makes it all worth it.

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