From books to birdhouses, YHS students showcase their work at Senior Project Fair

Brendon Gillaspy, a member of the Yosemite High School baseball team, logged 22 hours volunteering with the U.S. Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots program. Gillaspy plans on joining the Marine Corps, where he wishes to serve the country with honor.
Brendon Gillaspy, a member of the Yosemite High School baseball team, logged 22 hours volunteering with the U.S. Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots program. Gillaspy plans on joining the Marine Corps, where he wishes to serve the country with honor. Sierra Star

Though the projects ranged from book donations for African children to painting bird houses for the elderly, there was one central theme during Yosemite High School’s 5th Annual Senior Project Fair this week - community service.

Wherever one of some 50 judges glanced Tuesday evening, the hard work of 138 senior Badgers was on display, with a visual board, report, and a well-dressed student - some in costume to match their project - ready to explain their efforts.

“This is a great program because it gets the kids out of the classroom and they have to work on a project with some real life situations, some real life problems, and they have to do some real life problem solving,” said Robert “Bob” Brosi, past president of Oakhurst Sierra Rotary and a judge at the event. “It’s some great preparation for our senior students as they move on into the world.”

Hannah Scott, who spent 69 hours collecting 1,320 books to send to Ghana through the African Library Project, said she was inspired after she took a trip to South Africa when she was 16.

“I would see schoolchildren walking along the sides of the roads, always happy, always smiling,” said Scott, who plans on studying wildlife rehabilitation. “So when I was looking through and organizing these books, it gave me an insight into a child’s mind and what they’d like to read, what they’d like to learn. Maybe they’d like to be a scientist, or an athlete, and maybe they don’t have as much access to books and libraries we do. So I feel like I was making a difference in a child’s life by inspiring them to be what they want to be.”

Brendon Gillaspy, a member of the YHS baseball team who volunteered 22 hours with the Marine Toys for Tots program, said he learned the importance of never taking anything for granted.

“Some kids never get the chance to even realize what it’s like to have a real Christmas,” said Gillaspy, who plans to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps. “And to be able to help kids enjoy Christmas really means a lot to me.”

For many in the 2017 class, the project was about much more than meeting a mandated minimum of 20 hours to complete their work.

The project fair’s organizer since its beginnings, Rebecca Hardison, said the students easily logged more than a collective 3,000 hours of community service.

“I think a lot of them picked projects that were more demanding, and they were excellent at turning things in on time, working harder on their projects, and really driving themselves,” Hardison said. “These students have been great and are really a benefit to our community.”

Matthew Roberts, who logged 184 hours at Yosemite National Park helping to digitize more than 5,000 federal criminal case files, agreed the senior projects were a great way to find motivation.

“I feel like they’ve brought out the best in everybody to push themselves a little bit more,” said Roberts, who will attend UC Berkeley this fall. “Really test their limits and get to know what they want to do. For example, I was considering being a lawyer before this, but now, not so much.”

Everyone who attended had the opportunity to vote for their favorites in three categories: best project, best visual board, and best interview. Winners will be announced June 1 at the school’s end of the year assembly.

Matthew Holden, a multi-sport athlete, said working 22 hours at the Oakhurst Health & Wellness Centre - including painting six birdhouses - helped him connect with the elderly.

“Little things like those birdhouses, watching birds fly into their new homes, it makes a difference for them,” said Holden, who plans to be a pastor. “But talking to them, connecting with them, made a difference for me too. Because it helped me think about my future, and learn a lot.”

Some of the projects provided numerous challenges, but students easily stepped forward to meet them, Hardison said.

Riley Ashton spent 30 hours raising money for donations of gift cards and small items to patients at Valley Children’s Hospital’s oncology department, devoted to helping treat kids with cancer.

“After kids finish a round of treatment, they like to give them gift cards to give them that little bit of comfort knowing they’re going home with something nice,” Ashton said. “So I wanted to be able to do that for them.”

Ashton, who will attend UCLA to enter pediatrics or possibly become a surgeon, said she was initially going to raise funds and make the donation on Christmas, but changed plans as the hospital received an overwhelming amount of holiday support.

Instead, she said, she held the main fundraiser on New Year’s Eve, and finally donated the items May 11, months down the road.

“It showed me to be patient, and that though there may be problems, you have to work through it and get it done,” Ashton said.

Despite those challenges, though, Ashton said one thing was the hardest.

“It was hard not being able to go and give the donations to the kids,” Ashton said, noting she was unable to due to confidentiality issues and the patients being at high risk. “But employees told me after the donation that they all enjoyed it and were really excited about it, and that makes me happy.”

Hardison said she’s working to possibly extend the senior project idea to all students, freshman to senior, with varying amounts of time required for each grade.

Those willing to help with a future senior project or have ideas about the program can call Rebecca Hardison at (559) 683-4667, ext. 418.