OURAY – “I know y’all would rather be sitting in class,” Ouray School’s “Queen of Students” Di Rushing sang out in Southern-ese to a group of teenagers spiffing up the grounds at the Ouray Hot Springs Pool. She had stopped by with extra bagged lunches to check on their progress.
But from the girls painting benches to the guys in hip waders who were shoring up the perimeter of the fish pond, it actually looked like everyone was content to be working outdoors on this perfectly sunny fall afternoon.
Friday, Sept. 14, was the second annual Ouray School Community Service Day, with groups of kids from seventh through 12th grade were paired with teachers and community sponsors to work on indoor and outdoor projects all around town.
They were building trails in the Amphitheater, landscaping at Fellin Park and doing fall maintenance work in the yards and gardens of elderly Ouray residents. They were polishing woodwork at the Wright Opera House and refurbishing exhibits at the Ouray County Museum. They were painting the warming hut at Rotary Rink, repairing fence rails along the River Trail, and detailing the Senior Van.
They were even picking up trash along Highway 550 – an engrossing job, to be sure. Among the items found: an animal skull, an empty wallet, a car grill, endless cigarette butts and a hypodermic needle. But, said middle school teacher Greg Foy who accompanied the group (and disposed of the needle), “There’s been no complaining. They simply did the job. I’ve been impressed by the amount of effort the kids have put in without prodding.”
As the litter patrol made its way along the highway, Superintendent Scott Pankow came out and personally handed cookies to the young workers.
“Only in Ouray!” laughed Kimah Buehler, who as the Ouray Beautification Committee’s Adopt-a-Highway project was in charge of the group.
By late morning, two miles of highway stretching north from Ouray were trash-free, dotted only with neatly tied orange trash bags the kids had filled and left for pick-up.
City Resource Director Rick Noll pronounced himself impressed by, and thankful for, the students’ efforts around town. “They were hardworking, they were well-organized and it’s a huge benefit for the city,” he said. “We got a lot of work done we would have had to pay for otherwise. We get a lot out of it as a city, but it’s also an important connection between city, the community and the school.”
Foy, with his teacherly perspective, agreed that bridge-building was an important theme of the day. “We have a lot of folks here that don’t have a chance to interact with Ouray School students,” he explained, “but if they could see the attitude on exhibit here today, they’d be amazed.”
This is the second year in a row that the Ouray School has dedicated an entire day to community service. Many students, however, already are in the habit of giving back. Gail Jossi, president of the City of Ouray’s Beautification Committee and grandmother to two boys enrolled in the school, noted that she has been leaning on local kids all summer whenever she needs extra help getting stuff done around town.
“I go out of my comfort zone to ask them to help,” Jossi said. On this day, she was clearly at ease, leading a group of middle school girls with gardening tools toward a landscaping project near the pool. “I want ‘em once a week. Every time I work with them and watch them grow up, it touches my heart.”
Rushing described this year's community service day as one of Ouray School’s “finest hours.”
“The weather was perfect, the tasks were varied, and the students were excited to be out helping the community,” she noted. “I was particularly gratified by watching seventh graders work side-by-side with seniors, laughing and enjoying the day.”
After working hard, the students – 87 in all – came back to the playground for popsicles, games, and reflection on the day. Rushing noted that the most consistent sentiment expressed was the sense of satisfaction the students received from performing hands-on tasks and immediately seeing the results.
Sophomore Mia Saunders put it this way: “It feels good to see what we’ve accomplished and say ‘I did that for Ouray.’”