Vernon Hills High students tackle community service projects on special day

More than 300 Vernon Hills High School students volunteered on a diverse variety of community projects Tuesday as part of the school's inaugural Day of Service.

Teens manufactured clothing for needy kids, picked up roadside trash, sorted books that will be donated to poor Chicago-area children and performed other tasks.

Some bilingual students even helped Countryside Fire Protection District firefighters install smoke detectors by serving as translators in homes where Spanish is the primary language.

The participating students - all freshmen, sophomore or seniors - didn't miss classes to work on the projects. They weren't scheduled to be in school Tuesday while juniors took SAT college entrance exams.

"We are always looking for ways to engage our students," said Deborah Beagle, director of student activities at Vernon Hills High. "We saw this day as an opportunity to create experiences for students not in testing."

Senior Carlos Nevarez was among the students who, led by Principal Jon Guillaume, collected discarded bottles, foam containers, tennis balls and other litter on a long stretch of Fairway Drive near the school.

"I'm surprised by how many cigarette butts there are out here," Nevarez said.

Guillaume, who donned an orange-and-yellow safety vest and gathered garbage like the rest of the team, cheered the teens on as they worked.

"You're doing great guys," he said. "Keep it up."

Back at the school, a dozen students sewed colorful dresses and made beaded bracelets for children in poor countries as part of a charitable campaign called Dress A Girl Around the World.

Sophomore Halaz Abdelrazak was among the dressmakers. She said it's important for people to volunteer in their communities.

"If we don't, we're living in a bubble," she said. "There's a lot of people who need our help."

Other beneficiaries of the students' volunteer spirit included:

• The Libertyville location of Feed My Starving Children, where students packed meals for people in developing nations.

• The Special Recreation Association of Central Lake County, through which students helped adults with disabilities participate in a field day at the Libertyville Sports Complex.

Bernie's Book Bank in Lake Bluff, where students sorted, labeled and packed books that will be distributed to children in the Chicago area.

• The Wright Woods Forest Preserve near Mettawa, where students worked to remove an invasive plant species called buckthorn.

Buffalo Grove High, Prospect High in Mount Prospect, Downers Grove North High and Lake Park High in Roselle are among the other suburban schools that organize student service days.

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  Vernon Hills High School freshman Jad Salhani, far right, and other students gather trash along Fairway Drive as part of a volunteer service project Tuesday. Russell Lissau/
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